When you go home after your first semester of college, you expect certain things to be different. Going home after your first semester of theatre school studying dramaturgy changes certain other things. I heard a lot of talk about how theatre (and media in general) would be "ruined" for me now that I had been immersed in it. Now that I had picked theatre apart and seen so much of it, now that I knew more about how it functioned, going to any given performance was far more likely to make me squirm in my seat. Simply enjoying theatre would be a rare luxury.
In short, I would become a theatre snob.
And, in truth, I did.
But freshman year of college wasn't the beginning of my theatre snobbish behavior. Even as I first started discovering my love for theatre in middle school, I was trying to explore as many musicals as possible. I wanted to know every show, not just the ones everyone already knew about. I took pride in knowing more "obscure" shows, feeling that I had stumbled into some secret society of better theatre.
As I developed, so did my taste in shows. I had greater ability to look for new shows and experience them, whether through tours or through cast recordings online. I could actually watch the Tony Awards with some amount of familiarity with every musical on screen, despite living many states south of New York City. I wondered why the local high schools couldn't seem to break out of the same few musicals - Grease, Into the Woods, Legally Blonde...
I wanted more. And I was pretty good at finding it, too. There's a reason I discovered Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 back in 2015, and a reason I ended up seeing Hamilton while still in previews on Broadway. If any of my theatre friends came up to me and said, "Hey, do you know this show?" I could always say yes. It made me feel special. It made me feel different.
But I struggled with figuring out that I didn't like any given show, and struggled even more with expressing these feelings. The last thing I wanted was to insult someone's favorite musical. What I ended up with was quiet but very present resentment for people saying they loved shows that I disliked.
So I became somewhat of a quiet, self-important theatre snob. This only increased with what I can only call the post-Hamilton theatre fandom, with an influx of young new theatre fans with young new behaviors flocking to a certain set of young new shows. I didn't want to be lumped in with them, but I also didn't want to insult them. I ended up distancing myself from those certain shows, including Hamilton, even if I liked them. All to seem better.
And then I went to theatre school and become a louder but more aware theatre snob. I became almost proud of this label - I could be "the nicest theatre snob you'll ever meet."
What changed? Part of it is undoubtedly growing up and learning, in an educational sense. But it is also very much learning in the personal sense, figuring out how to be kind and open to all theatre fans while curating my own taste in theatre.
Here's what I learned.
Being a theatre snob is not about hating theatre. It is about loving theatre more than you could possibly imagine. It is about demanding more from theatre and refusing to settle for theatre that you don't enjoy, theatre that doesn't challenge you.
A good theatre snob is not exclusive. A good theatre snob wants to share the love of theatre with everyone, and that means courtesy even to fans of shows you do not enjoy. Nothing hurts more than hearing someone bash a show you love (which has happened to me...several times over).
Analysis is key. Learning to separate the different elements of shows - what belongs to performance, design, text, direction - allows you to verbalize what you did and did not enjoy from a more informed and objective standpoint.
Liking and disliking shows isn't always rational, and it doesn't always make objective sense. If you don't like a show, it is always good to note where your distaste is coming from - is it personal qualms with content? Is it quality issues with the text or performance? And so on. My professors like to call this "knowing when your button is being pushed."
Experience more theatre. My expertise in theatre was limited almost entirely to musicals until I went to college, and opening up my world to plays has not only helped me to understand what I look for in a theatrical piece, but also just what theatre can be.
I am a theatre snob. I carry around my "I'm With Sondheim" tote with pride. I'll freely admit that the only new musical I truly enjoyed in the 2017-2018 Broadway season was The Band's Visit. But I will never let my love for theatre turn into hate for people who don't share my exact views, never let my growing horizons shutter someone else's. Theatre is built around community, and nothing - or no one - can change that.
(Photo by Ben Arons)