20 April 2011

Why Study Theatre (follow up narrative on "The Younce Meme" [from the Facebook])

Found here.
It's entirely possible to pursue acting "on the side," and you don't have to be James freakin' Franco to make it work, either. In fact, when it comes to acting, plenty of people will tell you that classes - much less higher education - are bunk. Personally, I have mixed emotions about my college education. I'll never regret it, but in hindsight I believe I could have made more honest (and thereby daring) choices.

But what made me do it? That inspired idiocy of our teenage years that makes our choices just a little more instinctual than is conventionally wise, I think.

I was not, to put it mildly, a good student in high school. I was largely distracted by the usual things, and maybe one or two more-unique ones. So my freshman and sophomore years were a relative wash, academically speaking. I played in band and did one play - Midsummer's - finally, in my sophomore year, and I loved it and was utterly terrified and pretty much spent the entire time I wasn't on stage reading gay-themed sword-and-sorcery novels crouched in a corner next to the door of the dressing room. And then I quit band, and then Kara Schiffner cast me in her play, and then I fell ridonkulously head-over-heels for her, and I suddenly lost 40 pounds, and . . . well, life moves pretty fast. You don't stop and look around once in a while, you might suddenly find yourself being asked to choose a college.

At least my work went way up in quality for those last two years of high school, and I discovered for the first time just how much I enjoyed being hopelessly busy, so long as it was with projects to which I could make a unique contribution. When I started visiting schools, I figured the most memorable and significant aspects I could market (already I was concerned with advertising myself) were things I had done at the theatre conferences we attended. So I called myself an actor, and visited the theatre departments. At the same time, I was geeking out like nobody's business over writing of all sorts, and kept an eye on a double major. It is totally possible that I never gave a practical thought to my future. Money? Psh. Security? What is that, exactly?

My driving principle was that I didn't want to live with any major regrets. I didn't want to take the easy way, follow a set path. I had to at least try to make a life out of the things I loved to do. If I failed, I should at least be able to look back and say I failed honestly and had my answers.

So VCU it was for a BFA with nominal minor in creative writing (nominal because the theatre department at the time wouldn't recognize a minor in anything). It was urban, relatively speaking, which would prepare me for my culturally adventurous future. It had an English department (Shenandoah did not) and it didn't intimidate me the way Virginia Tech did with its vast Jeffersonian persona. (I didn't get into William & Mary, presumably because of my wastrel years.) And, yes, okay - there was a certain person I was seeing at the time on her way to the same school. Instinct over convention.

I was a person who needed that experience, so I'll always treasure it. Some actors can excel without technique or training, but I'm way too analytical for that and I quickly discovered in college that I had never known how to act, to be an actor. Personally, I don't think I would have figured that out if I had simply tried out for plays while pursuing a major in business, or skipped college altogether to live in Chicago. Maybe - who knows - but I doubt it. So it became a mission, to learn as much as I could about my "chosen" major, and my obsessiveness had a good excuse to flourish.

I've always been a little tunnel-visioned. It's interesting to realize that my dearest friends have all at one time or another had to decide to just trust and/or forgive me for that, and the way it makes me socially awkward or altogether absent. Even the woman who ended up marrying my silly ass was someone I knew in high school who was still interested in knowing me after I essentially vanished into my first professional theatre jobs for a year. The mixed emotions about my college education stem from looking back - free from tunnel-vision - and realizing I should have left after two years. I had learned everything I was going to by then. Maybe it was just an allegiance to the path I had set, but I stayed, and got a degree in the fine arts (as they say).

Going to school for those wacky liberal arts was the right choice for me; staying may not have been the best. But one more thing: There is value in committing oneself whole-heartedly to just about anything for a time. It can be a period of great discovery, as mine was, and we don't always have that luxury as we grow older and more encumbered with (in many cases welcome) duties. Does one have to pay tuition to do that? I think that all depends on one's personality in terms of a need for structure. I need structure, but in part as something to be a contrarian against. Let's not even try to analyze what freakin' Franko needs...

4 comments:

dave said...

Although I liked reading both responses, this one came closer to answering the question I was trying to ask. Thanks.

Jeff Wills said...

Thought it might. ;)

Pavarti said...

Dude, I love you too, but you spelled my last name wrong...

Jeff Wills said...

I did, didn't I? That is ambarrasing.