While home for winter break, I decided to go back to high school.
I know what you're thinking… Why? Why would anyone ever do that to themselves? But just hear me out.
At the very beginning of the fall semester I missed my high school a lot because it was familiar, small, familial, had lovely trees, a nice pond, lots of kids, even dogs on campus. Now I was in a new state, living in an apartment with three strangers in an odd city and really scared. On top of that, I had not worked on a show since my last high school production and, as a theatre major, that was very difficult for me. So I contacted my old director and asked if I could help out with the annual winter musical while I was home for break. She said yes.
Fast forward to winter break… I was SO pumped. It had now been 8 months since I had worked on a theatrical project and I was itching to jump in and get involved. I read the script, listened to the recording, and watched the movie adaption multiple times. I made notes about activities that I could do and topics to explore with my friends back at school. I studied the blocking photos and choreography videos that the director shared with me on Google drive until I could at least recognize, if not replicate them. I couldn't wait to go back, to see all my friends, come back to a building that had become a second home to me, and get back into the work! Then… I got there…
I quickly realized that this wasn't what I thought it was going to be. First of all, most of my friends were gone. I had forgotten that we all grew up and left. I still had friends there, but at least half the students were complete strangers to me. Additionally, I didn't have a title. I was half kid/half grown up and the students didn't know what to do with me and, for a few days, I didn't know what to do with them either. I felt like all of my planning and notes had flown out of my head as I struggled to keep their attention and gain their respect. During these desperate moments, I am not ashamed to say that I was afraid of those high schoolers.
I started to take a step back and observe while my director was working with the students to try to pick up some tips and tricks on how to keep their attention, refocus them, and ultimately help them to create great work. I started to recognize and remember certain actions and behavior that brought memories flooding back and made me extremely grateful to be in college. But I also noticed that, when energized, alert, and focused, the students became very passionate about their work and made some really great choices that surprised and delighted everyone! I started to be more playful with them and encouraged them and acted silly and exploded with energy and they responded with overwhelming progress.
Two weeks, five dance numbers, and one stomach bug later, I was in my last days with them. In my last two days with them, I was put in charge of costumes. And in those two days, managed to costume nearly half the cast!
Now, any actor will tell you that costumes really help with becoming a character, but the way that those kids' faces lit up when I put them in neon shirts and pastel suspenders gave me the biggest smile ever. The costumes were, at times, distracting, but in a way that excited and inspired them. As we put their outfits together, I watched their cogs turning and saw new thoughts and realizations about their characters clicking into place. I saw them getting more and more excited and committed. It was a side of high school productions that I had never seen before and, because of this, it was hard to leave.
Going back to high school wasn't what I thought it would be. I didn't return to all of my friends and jump into a production with them, which is what I imagined happened at the High School Musical reunion. I didn't get to visit with every teacher that I wanted to. I didn't blow the minds of the students with my impressive college smarts, nor was I offered a permanent position to live and breathe theatre in that space. I did, however, gain a new perspective on high school as a whole.
I do not miss high school. It is dramatic, petty, flirtatious, embarrassing, exhausting and frustrating. But it was and continues to be important for everyone to come to that realization, and you can only do that by living it. I saw freshmen who thought it was gross to come within three inches of the opposite sex and fell apart on stage when asked to follow the script and make contact with another actor. I saw seniors roll their eyes and shake their heads and sigh and groan and have to take a time out by themselves because they couldn't handle the outbursts any longer. I saw sophomores and juniors who were still trying to figure themselves and those around them out, while bookended by these polar opposite ends of the scale. High school is uncomfortable, scary, gross, annoying and wonderful, exhilarating and very, painfully, beautifully real.
Just like college, but for a different age group.
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