There's a lot that I've learned in my first months at college - like that procrastination is acceptable and welcomed (especially when assignments are due at midnight), and that you should definitely take advantage of any and all free food that is available on campus. Will I join your club? No, but I'll take your donut.
But I didn't think I would be learning so much more about theatre. I knew that I loved to act, and building a character was an exercise in imagination. But acting is more than that. Acting is empathy, and as actors, we are students of the human condition.
I'll use Romeo and Juliet as an example, since (let's be honest) we've all had to read it in high school. A lot of audience members will perceive Juliet as a ditzy-cutesy girl, swept off of her feet by an equally romantic and naive Romeo, and for that reason it's hard to sympathize with her when she meets her ironic and untimely end. But there is a lot more to their nature that people always seem to miss. Immediately upon first meeting Romeo, Juliet matches his rhyme schemes, word play, and meter indicating that despite her naivete she is extremely smart and quick-witted. For me, this has completely changed how I view her character, and while I'm not sobbing horrendously like I do with most Disney movies at some point, I have at least a somewhat sorrowful emotion that goes beyond indifference. Reading and knowing how to appreciate plays made me accept that being emotional and letting emotion come to you is okay.
But beyond learning to be affected by a play's story, I've learned to view characters as people. They have back-stories and layers, just like we do. Juliet was probably under a lot of pressure from her parents to marry who they chose for her, and to be what they wanted her to be. Therefore, her bond with her parents wasn't as strong. When she went to the party and met Romeo, it's plausible that she wasn't there because she wanted to be. Imagine how much more surprising it was for her to meet someone who piqued her interest enough for a conversation, when that was the furthest thing from her mind at that point in the play. In an acting aspect, there is the challenge of keeping up with someone else, and the intrigue of it being someone new, and that mixed in with a bit of flirtatiousness and the slightest bit of disbelief. Put that all into one moment and portray all of those with one expression. That's all the emotions and thoughts we go through in one day, too.
For example, imagine you got an F on a test (for me, that's more of a reality but I digress). At first, there's shock - that moment when you look at the paper and see the F in bold, probably red lettering. Then, there's disbelief. Surely this isn't your paper. You studied for five minutes more than normal, which was a miracle in itself. How is this possible? After that, there's anger, whether it be at yourself, the teacher, or that friend who decided to Skype you at 1:00 A.M. Finally, there's sadness and acceptance. You will have to work your grade up from that F, and that's hard to face. All of these emotions might run through your head in less than a minute, and without you realizing what's happening other than, "I got an F."
Through viewing characters this way I had to ask myself, why can't we view people with the same empathy we have for characters? We all have our back-stories and mixtures of emotion, as well as priorities and actions that make us who we are. Chances are, bad people don't know that they're bad people. Of course you can still hate someone; that's your opinion and your right. But we can't jump to conclusions and keep them there. Through acting, I've learned that first judgments are fine, as long as they don't stay that way. To understand more in other people and grow our understandings of them is also to try and understand yourself. Now I don't get (as) angry when my mom is worried I go out of the house too much when I'm on breaks; she misses me and that's her way of saying it.
And arguably the most important trait I've learned is to have patience - that life is similar to a play because there are some things we know, but a lot that we don't which extends to ourselves and those around us. Also like characters in plays, we can try to understand. This might not be enough to change our circumstances or the world or even our relationships, and it takes a lot of time, but just knowing that I tried to understand and empathize and see from another perspective, is a comfort that makes me extremely happy that I chose to be a theatre major.
Lead image credit: kaykaybarrie