Since junior year in high school, I have adamantly declared that I wanted to go to college to pursue a double major in English and theatre.
When I arrived on campus in August, the first thing I did after dropping off my bags was walk down to Ace Morgan Theatre. As I sat in the dark theatre, I pictured all the shows I would be a part of and create on that stage. I imagined late nights in the theatre, walking back up the hill late in the evening after long rehearsals, and deep conversations about character relationships. I had been waiting my entire life to dive into theatre.
Instead of diving in like I imagined, I’ve found myself wading in slowly, eager but nervous to take the plunge, afraid of what I might miss above the surface. Denison is wonderful in that I'm surrounded by people doing so many amazing things, but that also leaves me feeling pulled in lots of directions, and feeling like I want to/should be doing other things.
When, in the fall of 2015, several theatre alumni came back to campus to talk about their career, I was eager to hear what they had to say. The symposium, titled “Making a Life in the Theatre,” was organized by theatre faculty members Mark Evans Bryan, Cheryl McFarren, Cynthia Turnbull and Peter Pauzé. They created a variety of events that encouraged casual conversation between alumni and the students, including panels, workshops and conversations over Riverside pastries and Palumbo’s lasagna.
“There’s a distinction between making a living and making a life,” said Drew Lichtenberg ’05. He defined making a living as a “basic professional competence,” and making a life as what you do above and beyond the required work. “Making a life in the theatre, often makes demands on your personal life that require you to sacrifice time with your family or pursuing other interests.”
Kaitlyn Grissom ’12 backed this up. “Don’t do anything in the theatre profession unless you’re miserable not doing it.” All the alumni chimed in, agreeing that they couldn’t imagine themselves doing anything else.
One of the biggest takeaways from the Symposium for me was something Tara Demmy ’10 said. “Say what you’re doing, before you’re doing it and don’t apologize for being an artist or not making enough money.” She added that you can be many things simultaneously, like a designer/teacher. Most importantly, she said, “Own what you do.”
Demmy also talked about the importance of, while still experiencing everything, being clear-cut about what you want and what direction you’re going in. “Set goals for yourself,”
I learned that, unlike a more linear path like a doctor’s degree, there is no one path to follow in the arts to “make it.” This looks different for every artist. You have to justify what “making it” means for yourself.
This self-justification is hard, especially when I’m always surrounded by people with so many interests. Despite what I’d like to think, I can’t do it all. But I do know that if I’m involved in theatre, I will be making the life I want to live.
Theatre alumni who participated in the workshop include:
- Tara Demmy ’10, a Philadelphia-based actor and theatre-maker who often works with Tribe of Fools and teaches at the Arden Theatre
- Jordan Fehr ’07, a sound designer for theatre, film, and video games, and an actor and company member of Columbus's Available Light Theatre
- Sarah Fiete ’12, a recent alum of the MFA program in Musical Theatre Writing at NYU
- Kaitlyn Grissom ’12, a Chicago-based stand-up comedian, technical director, and scenic designer and artist
- Drew Lichtenberg ’05, the literary manager and dramaturg of Washington's Shakespeare Theatre
- Elena M. Perantoni ’05, an actor and arts administrator, presently a member and the company manager of Available Light Theatre in Columbus
- Kehler Welland ’08, resident costume designer for the British National Theatre of America and a costume technician for Cirque du Soleil, both in Las Vegas.