Saturday, September 19, 2009

Day Two-Hundred Fifty-One: The College Years

Mm, ice cream.


I'm still not sure what to make of my college theatre career. It started so well and ended so frustratingly ambiguous. I definitely learned quite a bit, but unlike most of my other successful classmates from Bison Hill, a lot of what I learned in college hasn't really been all the useful to me since then. Don't get me wrong, some of it definitely has been very applicable, and there were several theatre courses that have proved invaluable to my career to this day, but on the whole I don't know what I can really say about my OBU Theatre education, positive or negative.

Part of the reason is probably that our two-faculty department seems to "sort" people into one of two categories--you're either an actor/director or a techie/stage manager--after your sophomore year, and whichever faculty person covers that area of expertise kind of adopts you at that point. However, I never really got a sense that either side considered me one of their own. I did most things well without really excelling in any particular area, so each side usually thought it would be best if I were more involved in the other. For example, they kept insisting I should take on our publicity management, which I did a couple of times. I wasn't really very good at it, but they didn't have any other spots for me and felt I needed some responsibility and experience that I wasn't used to, so they put me there. So that was awkward.

In addition, I think there was a real miscommunication between myself and the department head at the beginning of my junior year, and the harder I tried to make it up or prove that I was valuable, the worse things got. I never completely figured out what happened there, but I know I wasn't imagining it, either, because several classmates would ask me on different occasions, "Man, why doesn't she like you?"

However, I thoroughly enjoyed college and most of the shows we did while I was there. I'll cherish the friendships forever (well, the ones who'll call/write me back from time to time ;-). I think I have probably learned more from my fellow (former) students than I did from the books and scene studies, and that's a fact.

Here are the pertinent details from Theatre OBU:

Freshman year, I was in my first college show, and it was the annual Theatre for Young Audiences performance. (I'd name it here, but last time I named it on a blog I got an email from the playwright, who apparently has something set up to alert her whenever her show title is published on the Internet. Creepy) It was a total blast, and it encouraged me to try the Intro to Children's Theatre class the following semester. Obviously, one of the best decisions ever, and probably the most influential thing I did in my OBU Theatre career. Although I never actually got into another TYA productions at OBU (our school was, on the whole, not very good at getting students plugged in to things they were passionate about--ask the classical-style actress who didn't get into our only Shakespeare or the musical theatre emphasis students who kept getting held out of musicals), my interest was piqued. I started to read more children's theatre literature, to familiarize myself with the audience dynamics of a kids' show, and to develop a passionate distaste for the phrase "it's just a kids' show."

I can actually tell you exactly the moment when I knew I would be in TYA in some capacity for the rest of my life: it was my senior year, during our TYA show The Wind and the Willows. I was the House Manager for the production, so I stood in the back and watched parts of the show from time to time. It was really a wonderful production. The set (designed my by talented friend Rob) was probably one of the coolest things we built at OBU in my four years there. The kids were absolutely transfixed at everything. Our department head was passionate about children's theatre, and you could tell in all of our TYA productions. The production values were very high. She wouldn't except sub-standard.

After each show, I had to run on the stage as soon as the curtain call was over. "Did you all enjoy the show??" I would ask the enthused crowd of youngsters. They'd all shout back "YEAH!" and sometimes they would applaud. I'd feed on their energy and reply with, "Now, who's ready to go back to school???" They would usually start to cheer again, then realize what they were cheering for and stop. It was pretty funny. I stood on the edge of the stage to make sure no kids wandered up to play with the set as they filed back out to the buses. While the kids passed, I would ask them about the play; who was their favorite character, what was their favorite part, that sort of thing. The kids were so animated in their replies, as if they wanted--nay, they needed--me to understand the utter coolness of their favorites. These children had had an experience that they were going to take back to their schools. Some would likely take on these characters at recess time. They were going to tell the stories to their parents and siblings. The show didn't end when the curtains closed.

The kids were inspired. And I needed to be a part of that.

So there was that.

Other major happenings at OBU:

--Decided I was not cut out to be an actor. I decided this not because I wasn't getting cast in shows, because I was, but because I noticed the acting teacher just didn't ever push me. I saw how she treated students that she thought had great potential and how she treated the ones who were a little shorter on talent. I fell into that latter group. And really, I discovered I was going to be okay with that. I still enjoyed performing (still do, to this day) and would much rather perform than not be involved with a show at all, but really, I don't need it. It's not always a "rush" like it was when I was younger. (This is, of course, a show-by-show analysis) As I caught myself encouraged to act less, I found myself okay with it. I had no idea what I was going to do in theatre, since I wasn't a real actor, nor a real designer, nor an experienced director, and it seemed at OBU that those were pretty much your only options, but I knew God had called me into theatre, and so He was just going to have to find me a job that allowed me to be good at everything but great at nothing.

--I started to be less-than-enthralled with the intellectual/spiritual superiority that came with a lot of artistic people. I started to grow disenchanted with sayings like, "Art is holy," or "Artists will save humanity," etc. I felt like my OBU education (which was phenomenal, by the way, and has had a profound impact on my personal worldview) was more about opening my mind to the value of all reaches of humanity, not just the arts. I surely don't disagree that art is holy, but it didn't seem to me that my work (as an artist) was necessarily consecrated to God any more than, say, an electrician's or a banker's. I didn't like the idea of setting myself as an artist apart from the everyman out there making the city run, because then I'm only a few steps away from making art for art's sake, or theatre for its own sake, and I thought theatre should be for people, not for itself. I hated my theory and crit class (which I'd expected to love) because I found myself wanting so many of the writers in our book to get over themselves and just do great theatre. I guess I just wanted people to be people, and that who we are individually and what we do for a living doesn't put us on one plane or another, because we are all under God.

Or something to that effect.

--The Hero Squad was born in college. During my junior year, I was stuck in a chair for two hours while our makeup designer built a prosthetic beard on my face. During the conversation that took place at that time, I created a superhero persona for her: a girl in purple spandex with bubbles and no superpowers who flitted about making people happy. Her name was Princess Mystic Starfish. The Princess became a bit of a running joke, and soon several of my friends had either hero or villain identities, and while I ended up sitting on the idea for a couple of years, that conversation was the birth of my playwriting career.

--I also went through my burnout period in college. Burnout is a very important aspect of one's artistic development, I think. When you make it through burnout, you know you're in it for the long haul. Just about my entire senior year, I started wishing I'd picked a different degree. I was still very active; I was in Directing I scenes as director and as actor, I played percussion for our Greek tragedy, I auditioned for other theatre companies in Oklahoma City and did a show there, and I prepared an audition for professional companies across the country, all without really liking it much. I did it because, by that point, it was what I did. Even the OBU show I did my senior year wasn't all that much fun for me. Theatre had become a job, a way of life, not devoid of all joy, but lacking completely any sense of newness or freshness. This was the time Kim and I were engaged, and I decided that I would gladly stick with theatre to support her, but that I would also be able to leave it behind if necessary to support her. It almost didn't matter one way or another.

Note: this is not the best frame of mind to be in your senior year of theatre, but when you consider by that point I'd been doing it pretty much non-stop, ether educationally or professionally, for six full years, I was probably due for some major burnout.

With no real direction leading me down any specific theatrical path, I found myself leaving college in a more-educated state of uncertainty than I had arrived, but I still didn't really have any clue as to what I was to do with my life. In fact, I didn't even have any job prospects until the day before graduation.

That was the day I got a call from Houston, Texas, asking if I could move down in September...