Don’t you just hate band-wagoners? “Oh, yeah, I’m totally a Philles fan since, like, yesterday!” Just, no. But, possibly worse than band-wagoners, are deserters. Like those stories about captains whose ships are in a nose-dive toward the sea floor and they’re just like, “Oh s—, I can’t swim. Peace out.”
Luckily, though, in the real world – the theater world – people come and go all the time without persecution from the rest of the theater community. Maybe they just get “thrown some shade.”
I’m sorry, I’m not entirely sure what the phrase “throwin’ shade” means, but I hear it all the time. Realistically, it makes no sense, you cannot throw shade. But methaphorically, it’s a very real event that happens quite frequently in the theater department, I’m told. So I’m jumpin’ on the shade-throwin’ bandwagon.
Anyway, I’m one of those people who jumped on the theater bandwagon. I began my lengthy career at Temple as a journalism major, at the urging of my roommate at the time, a fellow journalism major. Another time, she was a crazy sex fiend conducting an orgy on my bed when her’s was wide open. But that’s another story for another day.
I was a journalism student for two semesters, until I took a theater course. Now, I had done theater in high school, and I had also been an editor for my school’s newspaper, the Indian Post. But when trying to decide what to major in, I figured, “Well, I guess I should at least try to make some money – I’ll do journalism.” Then in my second semester, I took a class called The Collaborative Art, sometimes known as Dramatic Imagination, which required us to see about seven shows in the city, and whatever shows were being produced at Temple that semester.
My first thoughts upon reading the syllabus were three letters that you’re all familiar with: WTF. But alas, my grade demanded that I go, so I went. And each time I went to see a show, this itching feeling – no, not the bad itching, there’s medicine for that – came back again and again. I missed being a part of plays terribly, and there was no cure for my itch – so I switched majors. Ironically, I remember telling my parents “journalism is too boring for me.” Oops.
And through my lifetime at the theater department, I’ve seen so many students leave their original majors: biology, nursing, Spanish, anything and everything unrelated to theater, to join the program. And sometimes the biology-turned-theater-majors are the best of the bunch. However, I’ve also seen a fair amount of people abandon ship. Of course, there’s always those people that you think, “Well it’s about damn time they switched out,” and then there are those people whose departure takes you completely by surprise. I’ve seen students who have booming success in the department one semester and vanish the next. And again, those three little letters come to mind: WTF? Where do these people go?
A lot of times, people will abandon the theater ship for financial reasons. And who’s to blame them? They’re smart and they want to make money. Some people leave because they realize that this really isn’t their calling, that their set of skills are put to better use somewhere else. Valid.
And some people just can’t handle the grueling amount of physical, mental and emotional work that’s needed. In the theater world, you have to have skin thicker than an alligator’s, or else you’ll get eaten alive.
Anne Bilker, a junior early childhood education major, made the leap of faith out of the department in the spring of her sophomore year. At first, I’m sure many people were shocked, because Bilker legitimately has the voice of an angel. But Bilker is a prime example of someone who, after spending some time in the department, was able to realize what it is she truly wanted to do – even if it wasn’t theater.
“I always knew that I loved children and had a strong feeling that I wanted to teach one day,” Bilker said. “I’ve spent most of my summers working at camps and teaching theater. For some reason, I had a definitive change of heart fall of my sophomore year. I realized that I truly didn’t have the drive to pursue theater or the thick skin. Many of my friends spend their weekends going to New York and auditioning. For me, I was not compelled to go through an intensive auditioning process.”
And she makes a good point, especially when it comes to the musical theater folks who literally, I kid you not, spend every single weekend waking up at 5 a.m. to catch a bus to New York City to run from audition to audition, most of which will yield no results. It’s exhausting. It’s exhausting to even write it. Maybe I should change my major.
Bilker went on to describe what went into making her career-changing shift.
“Theater has so many ups and downs,” she added. “You have to be willing to take a lot of rejection before you can have success. You have to be able to learn from each experience without letting it take a toll on your emotionally stability.”
Right again, I cry to my pillow on a weekly basis, usually following my graduate-level playwriting course and curse the day I was born.
“I did question my choice a lot initially,” Bilker said. “I missed the department. I honestly felt like I left my sorority where all my friends were together all the time. The theater department had such a wonderful sense of community that I love. This semester, I really have come to accept and enjoy my current major. I have practicum in a kindergarten classroom once a week and I know I made the right choice. It just fits. I feel so happy being with children. I’m also getting to know more of my peers in my major.”
God, what I wouldn’t give to have Miss Bilker as my kindergarten teacher. Now knowing that’s the path she’s chosen, it makes complete sense. Not that it has to make sense to anyone besides her, but still, it fits, and you can’t help but be happy for her and all the little kiddies that get to experience her genuine kindness.
Just because Bilker switched out of the theater department, though, does not mean she’s forgotten about us here in the department. Bilker still takes a musical theater class, which she said required the students to audition for the show, “The Boys from Syracuse.” Bilker landed a leading role. Some people, when they leave the department, they leave for good. But Bilker still keeps her presence alive and known.
As far as a place for theater in Bilker’s future, she said, “I’m just going to see where life takes me with theater for now. I really love teaching it in the summers for now. But, if the opportunity arises, I will definitely continue participating in theater.”
See? Theater can have a place outside of the stage, too. One doesn’t need to be an “actor” to be a part of the collaborative art.
College is all about making mistakes, making changes, and figuring out who we are and what we want. People come and people go. And after five years, I’ve finally figured out what it is that I want.
Marcie Anker can be reached at email@example.com.