Introversion doesn’t exactly seem conducive to standing center stage and belting a song to over one hundred people. Still, I intended to enter my high school’s theater troupe as soon as 9th grade began. “Introversion” in this case means that I find socialization draining and need time alone to recharge my batteries. I'm also shy. So what happened when I was thrown in a green room with other people for five hours after school every day, and participated in quite possibly the most social discipline ever? Well, I learned that…
1. Theater kids are diverse.
When I signed up for theater 1, I thought that everyone in the class would be super-sociable, super-brave actor types. Or, you know, those kids who memorize “The Tempest” and like to talk to skulls. The truth is that there's no default “theater kid.” I saw a mix of athletes, bookworms and math prodigies perform onstage. Some were comedic goofballs who shined during improv exercises, and others were more reserved performers who strove for artistic precision. It made me feel like, shy as I was, I actually had a shot at this drama business.
2. Acting builds confidence.
Our theater teacher was determined to crack the walls of teenage self-consciousness on day one. One of his go-to exercises involved pairing us up and having us stare at each other, nose-to-nose, and try to keep a straight face. I think I learned the most, however, from improv exercises. You’ll fail sometimes in improv, often embarrassingly – but a good theater class fosters an environment where everyone keeps the wheels rolling smoothly and supports each other. I learned it was OK to fail – what matters is that you try.
3. Theater is a commitment.
Soon, it was time for me to audition for an actual show. The elation I felt from being cast wore off when I discovered that I’d be doing WAY more than just acting. Theater is spending your weekend promoting the show by handing out flyers at the mall, hoping security doesn’t kick you out; it’s trying not to melt into the ground as your director lectures an assembled cast/crew about poor work ethic; it’s giving rides to underclassmen; it’s constructing the set, then disassembling and striking the set on Sunday. None of these responsibilities are listed on the audition sheet, and the time commitment is massive in general. Add in lots of pressure, most of it social, and you’ve got a lit Molotov cocktail flying at my psyche. I tended to develop a “mystery illness” near show night that I came to realize was definitely stress punching me in my stage-makeup-covered face. At the start, I could only handle one show a year due to the academic and mental fallout. It got better when I realized the point of it all, which is…
4. You get a “theater family.”
When I first joined theater, I was afraid that I wouldn’t make any friends. That all changed as upperclassmen went out of their way to strike up conversations with me, and cast/crew members said hi to me in the hallways. The benevolence that theater people have shown to me over the years absolutely blows me away. Thanks to the kind, inclusive and generally awesome nature of theater kids, I began to find my place in the school. Prior to this, I had always been totally OK with eating my lunch alone with a good book. But now, I saw the world that I had been missing out on all this time: midnight excursions to Village Inn, group chats, lock-ins, afterparties and an entire “Fiddler on the Roof” cast singing me happy birthday. I grew to understand why people put their grades and health on the line for theater. It’s the amazing community. The fam, if you will.
5. There will be drama, both onstage and off, and you’ll have to deal with it.
Like any family, dysfunction will inevitably occur. This was alien to me: I’m not very good at dealing with other people’s emotions if they aren’t immediate relatives. It doesn’t help that my family is generally phlegmatic and conflict-averse. Fortunately, theater has improved my adeptness in this as well (though to be completely honest I still freak out internally when people fight).
6. Being in the spotlight feels totally weird (but also good).
Even though I would call myself more of a theater hobbyist than an actress-to-be and generally received small roles, teachers and students alike went out of their way to compliment me on my performance weeks after each show ended. Not gonna lie: that was awesome, especially if I was mentally critiquing my performance that day and cringing at the line I bungled. It made me less afraid to put myself out there as a performer, both onstage and in real life, because I saw that the benefits far outweigh the risks.
7. Everyone cries.
Bawling was common during our pre-show traditions. This ESPECIALLY applied to the final show of the year during the senior speeches, where sniffling could be heard every couple of seconds. Dry eyes on these show nights were so rare that I joined a No Cry Club. On the closing night of my last high school show, after all the speeches were over, I was expelled from the No Cry Club. Because I cried. A little while later, at our annual banquet, each senior was roasted/complimented by our beloved director and there were even more tears. For many of the kids in my community, theater provided a family when they had none; it literally saved some of them.
8. The best things in life aren’t easy.
This was the thesis of a speech our director gave all of us after a particularly difficult show. The rehearsal schedule was abridged, and everyone was kind of afraid that things would fall apart – come opening night, we hadn’t completed a single run-through without stopping for some technical reason. We also had to swap out an actress who was acutely sick. Her replacement learned the part in a single day. And then… the show went stupendously. It went stupendously because so many people put in 110 percent effort and cared about what we had built. Come closing, were all proud of the show and of each other. It was the best thing. And the best things can indeed be terrifying, exhausting and difficult… but they're also entirely, unquestionably and indescribably worth it.
That statement sums up theater for me. Theater stretched and challenged me as a person. It gave me my best high school memories – jumping into somebody’s pool with a dress on, to name but one – and friends. My biggest regret? Not doing more of it. Missing opportunities. As I walked out of graduation with my cap and diploma, a scene ended – but the great play goes on. I have the utmost confidence that the last four years will help me perform in it.
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