Reflection on Transitioning from High School to College Theatre
Issue   |   Wed, 11/01/2017 - 00:29

My high school’s shows were riddled with gaudy set pieces, Broadway-wannabes cracking on high notes and flashy yet empty musical numbers marked by intense choreography. I can’t say I liked or disliked it, really. Theater was a thing I did, a thing I assumed I would always do. I wasn’t really good at it and I’m still not quite sure if it’s my true passion, but it was a constant in my life.

Our high school auditorium seated 600 people, and the last show we did was “Legally Blonde: The Musical.” For those who don’t know, “Legally Blonde” is a horrific tableau of early 2000s fashion, sexism, racism, homophobia and misuse of the color pink. I performed the part of a stereotypical lesbian, did absurd and meaningless things for laughs from the audience and felt I desecrated on the art of theatre in the process. Nonetheless, it was undeniably an ego boost to bow in front of a total of 1800 people per weekend (especially considering that 1800 people is just about the number of students on campus with me now).

As ostentatious as the whole affair was, a part of me thoroughly enjoyed our engorged budget for the prettiest costumes, the biggest sets, the brightest lights, etc. The kids I shared the stage with were aggressive and competitive.

My school has spit out dozens of professional actors in the past decade who work and ply their trade everywhere from Broadway to Hollywood, so every kid in tap shoes assumed they had a shot at the big time (most didn’t).

The competition pushed kids to sabotage each other — some would even rat others out to administration for drinking or breaking some school policy in order to get them suspended from school and therefore suspended from the show. This environment pushed young actors to feel the need to be the absolute best, and the emphasis on our regional theater awards conference made the success physically tangible in the form of a plastic trophy.

Fast forward — I arrive at Amherst as plucky, overexcited and annoying as any first-year could be. I spot an audition sign for The Green Room’s production of “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” — a difficult but hilarious existential, absurdist play with basically two main parts. I audition, resume in hand, with my best professional voice on. The other people in the room all know each other, and the director eyes my resume with a mix of surprise and amusement at my over-prepared naïveté, and I wait shaking in my boots.

The audition process ended up being incredibly casual and low stress, with everyone there to just have fun and enjoy each other’s company in an artistic setting. Michael Barnett, the director, is a senior at the college, and he made sure everyone felt included and made efforts to get to know everyone on a more personal level.

When we started the rehearsal process, we treated the show as a community activity rather than a high stress, high stakes, end-all performance. There was no envy about who got what parts, no complaining, no ego — just some pals doing some existential theatre together.

The performance space seated under 30 people, and the set was bare outside of a few boxes and a curtain. There was truly an emphasis on this hilarious, absurd thing we all created together and not on the attention or the competition or the flashiness. I truly can say I will never miss the bright, lonely lights on the big, empty stage back home.

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