I was in your shoes just one year ago. Well, maybe not exactly - I go to school for dramaturgy, not performance or design or production or directing. (But I hope there's some freshman turgs out there reading, too.)
You've probably heard a thousand people go "oh!" when they hear your major. They might smile a little bit, but you can see the concern and pity in their eyes. They might not say it, but you can practically hear them saying "well, you'll never get a job." Some of those people might be your teachers, your family, your parents. The same thing happened to me, and unfortunately it still happens. For a world that runs on art, very few people seem to think it's important. Certainly not a viable career, certainly not a viable college major.
You and I know theatre is important. You're here because you've had an experience in the theatre that has changed your life for good, and you know that you can never turn back. Once I was surrounded by students and professors like me who love drama and art, I constantly heard that you're in theatre because you know there's nothing else you can do. It's not about wanting to do theatre, it's about needing to. Going into theatre isn't about being practical. Probability is that we won't be rich and famous. But we can make a living and be fulfilled by it.
I bet many of you care so much about theatre that you want to change it for the better. You want more actors of color in all roles, you want to see female directors no longer being the exception in big theaters, you want theaters to produce plays by and featuring LGBTQ+ people. You want representation, diversity, acceptance. You want change in the world through art. You want change, perhaps, now more than ever. If you keep going, if you stick with this, then you can be one of those pioneers. The passion and ferocity our generation has shown already is making waves.
Right now is a time of hope and looking forward. That also makes this a time of uncertainty. I wish I could tell you this coming year, and the ones after that, are going to be perfect. After all, you made it to college! You made it to this program! But there are going to be bumps in the road. Making theatre is intense, unwieldy, and vulnerable. There's bound to be a night where you're staying up, rushing to put together an essay after a rehearsal that ran late. Or maybe the actors for your piece get sick. Or maybe you get sick. Something will happen. And then, almost certainly, that something will pass.
One of the hardest times of my life last year was working crew for a show as required credit. That work itself wasn't hard - I was a spotlight operator, so I spent most of my time gazing down at the show from my mat up on the tension grid. It was an excellent show, too. But it would chew up my entire night every weekday, and then pretty much all day Saturday. It was like having a full-time job on top of my full-time student schedule. I woke up, went to class, ate, did homework, went to crew, slept. And the cycle repeated.
Needless to say, I was incredibly exhausted and incredibly stressed. There's no way to sugarcoat it. But I got through - partially because one of my professors noticed me struggling and more or less told me to take an extension on a project. So I did. And I asked for another extension in a different class, and I got that too. I made it through, with my grades more than intact and finally able to take a deep breath again.
My hope is that none of you will have to go through so much stress, but I know it's unrealistic. What is real and worth everything is the community of theatre. And you, a fresh new theatre major, are undoubtedly a part of that community. Through making art you will make friends, finding connections and care through the work. You'll be a part of something so much bigger than yourself. And maybe you'll stare up at the ceiling of the theater, like I did up on that tension grid, and marvel at how you got there, to this school, to this major, to these people, to this work.
Make friends. Connect with your professors. Don't listen to those who sneer at your major. Create theatre.
Welcome to theatre school.
Photo credit: University of Nebraska-Lincoln students gather in a circle for a readthrough. Photo by Sabrina Sommer.