Finding My Way in the Theatre World (A Work in Progress)

Obviously, I love the theatre (every post on this blog and the existence of this blog in itself are a testament to that!) and theatre plays a very big part in my life, but when it comes to where I am and where I see myself within the theatre world, where I fit, well, I’m still trying to figure that out.

In interviews with theatre professionals (actors, directors, designers, etc.) the topic of education is one of those topics that always seems to come up. It’s always a question of did they go to school? Did they not? And whether or not they did, the conclusion is always the same: there is no one way to “make it” (whether that means on Broadway specifically or just in the theatre world in general). Just because going to school is right for one person, doesn’t mean that that’s necessarily the right option for someone else. It depends on each individual person. In my case, I did study Drama at university, though I wasn’t in a “theatre program” per se (it wasn’t a conservatory program or a BFA or anything like that). I was in a general Bachelor of Arts (Honours) program in which I majored in Drama (with a minor in Art History).

Before I went off and studied Drama at university however, I grew up in a town that didn’t have a whole lot of options when it came to theatre. There are a couple of theatres and companies in nearby towns but overall it’s not the best area for gaining exposure to the theatre. In high school I wasn’t interested in taking drama classes, except for the musical theatre class my high school offered every other year, which I took in grade 12 (a class in which we wrote and performed a musical). I knew a life in the spotlight wasn’t for me (I had/have neither the talent nor the confidence for it) and drama classes typically seemed to be performance based. I hadn’t even read many plays before studying Drama at university. The only plays I really read in high school were by Shakespeare (though I was one of those students who did enjoy reading Shakespeare in high school). I was very much interested in theatre in high school and loved seeing shows I just didn’t have a whole lot of experience making theatre.

So while my interest in (obsession with) theatre began earlier, when it came time for me to decide on post secondary education, I had no idea what I actually wanted to do (I mean, I still don’t, but we’ll get to that). I did look into some theatre programs but, like I mentioned before, I knew that I didn’t want to be a performer and I did not want to go into a program for which I would have to audition. Though I was more interested in the production side of theatre, I didn’t really know that much about it or have much experience in it. Nothing seemed like quite the right fit. I didn’t even know for sure if I wanted to go into theatre, I just knew that I liked it (a lot), and that it would be cool to be a part of it in some way.

I decided to into a general Bachelor of Arts (Honours) program. I did get into my top choice of school, Queen’s University, and I got into a program that allowed me to spend my first year in England going to school in a castle (Herstmonceux Castle). In first year I took a general selection of courses (Art History, Drama, English, Film, and some others) and second year was when we declared our majors. I had enjoyed both Drama and Art History in first year so I decided on a medial degree with those two subjects (sort of like a double major but not quite). I found I was enjoying my Drama classes more than the Art History ones so for third year I switched to a Drama major with an Art History minor, which was definitely the right decision for me.

I really liked the Drama department at Queen’s and the variety of classes it offered which allowed me to figure out my own place/path in the program. There were of course the mandatory course requirements, some theory and history courses, some technical with required practical elements of working on the crew for a department productions. Studying Drama at university, I got to learn about and experience all of the technical and production elements that go into the creation of a show that I just hadn’t experienced and didn’t really know about before. I took design courses, looking at set, lighting and costume design. I also took playwriting and Theatre for Young Audiences (in which we wrote plays and then performed them at an elementary school in the area, my group’s play being a kid version of Macbeth. Yes, you read that right!). All of my professors were great as well and helped to make my experience at Queen’s the positive one that it was.

It was great getting to work on productions both for and outside of class. There were so many theatre companies with so many shows being put on at any given time. Some were actually a part of the department and some were companies organized by students outside of the department. With all of these productions there were lots of opportunities to try new things and gain new experiences. At one point my interest was focused on sound design and I was able to work on a number of productions doing that but then I decided I wanted to try my hand at some other jobs so that’s what I did! During my time in Kingston (I also stayed a year after graduation to work and to work on more shows and I continued to figure out what I wanted to do and to just gain more experience) I worked in such a variety of positions on different types of shows. I was on set crew, sound crew, props crew. I did set, props, paint design and sound design. I worked as an assistant technical director and an assistant stage manager. I enjoyed all of it, even though it did get stressful at times. I was able to explore and learn both about the theatre and myself, including how I work both on my own and with others and in leadership positions, like being a crew head. I loved working on shows (and still love it). The collaboration, the creativity, being a part of something, it was all so rewarding. And with so many productions going on around campus, there were a lot of different styles/genres of theatre to experience- plays, musicals, established productions, student written shows. It was a good way to learn about what I really like and am interested in on both sides of the stage.

I don’t think I would have gotten in to theatre (in such a way, or maybe at all) if I hadn’t done it the way I did. I was able to sort of find me way into it, figuring out the things I liked to do and being able to experiment and try new things. Studying drama the way I did increased my overall interest in, respect for and understanding of theatre and my appreciation for it. I learned a lot from my program and I’m so glad that I chose it.

Now I’m out in the “real world.” I graduated 3, almost 4 years ago (it will be 4 years this year) and I am still trying to figure out what I really want to do with my life (beyond knowing that theatre will be a part of it one way or another). For now though, I am happy that I do actually have a job in the theatre, working in front of house, working with other theatre-loving people. It’s great knowing that I have a role in that world, as minor as that role may be. I have also stage managed a couple of productions recently, and while I don’t think I want to “be” a stage manager (professionally), I do enjoy it and I enjoy being a part of the process of creating and putting together a show, and that I’ve been able to do it outside of school!

Overall the theatre industry doesn’t really seem to be the easiest to get into, especially when you don’t know specifically what you want to do and to be able to make enough money to live off of. It is nice to be living in a city where there is a fairly large theatre scene, though it’s nothing compared to NYC or the West End. And there are not really a lot of other theatre-related jobs, by which I mean jobs that might fall outside of the standard positions in a theatre or on a production. Every so often I will look at the job listings on the Playbill website and there are such a variety of jobs. I will see jobs that look interesting and think “maybe I could do something like that,” but we just don’t always have those same sorts of options or opportunities here, which can be a little disheartening.

In all honesty, I can’t really picture myself doing anything specifically, which is extremely helpful when you’re trying to figure out what you want to do with your life. For now, I am grateful to have a job in a theatre and one that lets me be a part of that world, surrounded by people who are also interested in and a part of that world. I think writing this blog is also me trying to find a place for myself or rather, create a place for myself, in the theatre/Broadway world. Now if only I could stay motivated to update it regularly!

 

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