Alumni citation honoree speaks to students on success

On Thursday, Sept. 26, part of Maryville College’s Homecoming week activities, students received a visit from alumni theater student Paul Elliot in Lawson Auditorium. Now screen writer, playwright and novelist, Elliot shared his story and successes since graduating from the college.

Dr. Heather McMahon, associate professor of theater at MC, introduced Elliot. The main theme of his presentation was relaying early career struggles to make his name in the business — a struggle students can relate to.

He started by discussing his background: “Hello, I’m Paul Elliott, and I’m a writer.”

During his speech, Elliot read several passages from his biography:

“Raised in the south one was trained from childhood never to brag about yourself,” Elliot said. “I’m a very good writer and it’s taken me decades to finally get the nerve to say that.”
On the subject of self-confidence, Elliot said:

“Don’t be afraid of yourself. Have that enthusiasm and that drive to put yourself out there.”

“Do you know the kid that loves theatre and everything about it, but he doesn’t have a lick of talent? Don’t actually answer that,” Elliot said jokingly. “Well, he keeps coming back. Be like that guy. Have that same determination he has and you can’t fail. You’re going to get your break if you continue to pursue it.”

He also warned students that success is not something that they should expect happens overnight.

“The stars that are discovered ‘overnight’ have prepared sometimes years to get to where they are,” Elliot said.

When the forum was opened to student questions, Joshua Loomis, a junior writing/communications major, asked Elliot what advice he would give to creative writers trying to find a starting job. Relating to his own experiences, Elliot advised students to know the format well that they wished to write for.

“Write for corporate events, write for theme park shows, write for advertisement, but know your format. Start small and start local. Nothing is too low for you to do,” Elliot said. “It’s all about connections. Embarrass yourself there and then and work your way up. But whatever you do, don’t be afraid to be yourself.”

“Nothing is ever dull,” Elliot said while mentioning a recent career experience. He shared the story of one of his current students an elderly woman who was a great example of his next point, “your essence.”
Elliot teaches an improvisation class for seniors, many of which have gotten agents and been booked because of their appearance.

“Their look helped them to get hired, whether it be because you’re a sweet old lady on a scooter yelling ‘move it buster!’ or if it’s something else,” Elliot said. “If you have a look, go with it.”

“Every one of you has an essence. They [people] instantly see you and get an impression, so play to that impression. You may be an insecure basket case, but if you look like a hard ass, they expect you to be a hard ass. Always remember you’re appealing to an audience, whether it be writing or acting or directing.”

Elliot also discussed his love of writing and mentioned his new novel “The Riverton Project,” scheduled to come out this month on Oct. 18.

“It’s easy to get off track, so continue to work, continue to write, and continue to act,” Elliot said.

“It might be crap, but you’ve got to go for it,” Elliot said, “Don’t be afraid of criticism, just write. Write for anything, I always said I would write for porn if they paid me.”

Returning to a more serious note, Elliot left students with a final piece of advice:

“While you’re here as students at Maryville College take advantage of the opportunities offered. You’ll definitely make it from Maryville.”

“It is good for students to hear from someone who has been out there in the field,” McMahon said following the presentation. “It doesn’t mean the same thing when students hear these things from us, so hopefully what he has said today will encourage students to continue. It was wonderful to have him here.”

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