Anker: Intradepartmental relationships: friend or foe?

Marcie Anker reflects on pros and cons of dating someone in the same field.

Marcie Anker

Marcie AnkerAh, relationships. Have one, lose one, love one, hate one — you name it, I’ve been there. I’m certainly in no position of authority to give any sort of relationship “advice” to anyone — human or beast. It isn’t advisable to accept guidance from someone whose love life is eerily comparable to that of Nancy Botwin’s on “Weeds” — minus the guns and drugs, mostly.

If I were to give relationship advice, it’d be a “do as I say, not as I do” type of lecture, and, let’s be honest, that’s horrifyingly boring. And frankly, it’s neither appropriate nor admirable to tell a young lad to hide in the bathroom and then, when all’s clear, run like the wind away from a bad date, now is it? Although, if someone were to ask me for a graceful exit strategy for inadvertently burping in a guy’s mouth mid-kiss, I’d have expert advice. (Hint: Pretend it was purposeful, guys love quirk). Hence why I am neither the advice nor the relationship columnist. Therefore, this is not — I repeat, not — a column aimed to advise. Rather, it is a column aimed to inform.

In my ripe old age of 23, I’ve dated quite an array of fellas: valedictorian, frat bro, burn-out, stalker, musician, older dude and Marine, just to name a few. I like to mix it up. However, I have never in my life had a relationship with a fellow theater-artist. Hook-ups are different because, let’s face it, everyone in the theater department has locked lips with everyone else at some point or another (sorry, Dad). But seriously dated? Never. And why not? You’d think that dating someone in the same field, with the same schedule, sharing the same interests would be picture-perfect compatibility — not for me. I prefer to keep my work and play as two separate entities — “work” being the relationship and “play” being theater.

When I think about intradepartmental relationships, I always wonder how much professional and private competition and jealousy there must be. Because for me, if I was dating another actor, I’m fairly certain I would implode from the sheer drama that must accompany that particular relationship.

I’ve had non-theater boyfriends who morph into the green-eyed monster and rant and rave like a petulant child when I’ve had to do romantic or sexual scenes with another actor. “It’s just acting,” I explain, to which I am met with the response, “There’s no such thing as ‘just acting,’ it’s cheating.” You can see the seemingly never-ending battles I’ve had to face when choosing to date men outside of my field. Feel bad for me, sad-face.

Although I don’t personally choose to date my fellow actors and directors, there are a number of intradepartmental relationships that not only work, but thrive.

“There is a lot of comfort dating someone in the same field as you,” said senior theater major Sofie Yavorsky, “to live an actor’s life is a difficult one, so when you date another actor they hopefully will understand all the troubles you deal with on a daily basis — troubles that a business major would not comprehend.”

That makes enough sense. After all, business majors don’t have to fret over Shakespeare scansion or bizarre late-night rehearsals that involve interpretive dance. No, business majors fret over…what’s the best place to buy a pant suit? That’s what they do, right? I kid, I kid.

Now, dating an actor of the opposite sex is one thing, but dating an actor of the same-sex is a whole other ball game. Male and female actors who date members of their same sex face unwanted, yet inevitable competition and jealousy issues.

Theater alumnus Calvin Atkinson has been dating his boyfriend, senior theater major Michael Grant for two and a half years, and as strong as their relationship may be (they live together, they’re adorable), they’ve had to deal with a bit of professional jealousy, both men being young, attractive and equally talented.

Of this issue, Atkinson said: “There have definitely been some big challenges in dating someone of my same gender in a field like theater, especially since we can ostensibly play the same types of character. So when cast lists would go up or even if someone got assigned a certain role in class, there was an element of competition…the process of overcoming the jealousy and competition took a while. We definitely would get upset at each other when one of us wasn’t supportive enough of the other.”

Personally, I cannot imagine being in a relationship with another female actor. The women in the Theater department are the most multi-talented, interesting and all-around most stunning women I’ve ever come across in my life. However, being in a relationship with a woman who was auditioning for Juliet at the same time I was would drive me literally insane. It’s hard for me not to feel jealous, or competitive with my closest friends, my roommates, who are some of the most talented actors I’ve ever met. Call me selfish, I don’t care, but I want theater to be “my” thing.

Adjunct professor Cheryl Williams and her husband Eric Kramer have been together for 23 years. They are both actors and their relationship has flourished as time has passed.

“I’m still blown away every time I see [Williams] onstage, or teaching a class, and stand in awe of her ability to move an audience, or help a classroom full of fledgling actors find their wings. I revel in audiences’ joy in her performances, and it always thrills me to see how much her students value the passion, devotion and commitment she brings to her teaching, whether in the classroom, or while working one-on-one,” Kramer said.

“The most rewarding aspect is seeing your loved one ‘knock it out of the park,’” Williams said. “I remember when Eric was hired at Marriott Lincolnshire in Chicago for ‘Mame.’ He only had a put-in rehearsal [I believe], with dancing, singing…a lead role plus chorus. We rehearsed together from tapes sent by the theater in our living room. When I went to see his first performance, I was weeping and shouting at intermission, ‘That’s my husband, isn’t he wonderful?’ And no, the audience didn’t think I was crazy, they applauded and shouted right along with me.”

Williams and Kramer’s story is the epitome of “The Notebook” for young theater couples — we aspire to have what they have.

Look at faculty members in the theater department and you’ll find that almost every one of them has a spouse or partner in the same field. Head of Musical Theater Peter Reynolds and Brandon McShaffrey, an alumnus and producing director and co-founder of Mauckingbird Theatre, have been together for 13 years.

Go on, let your gasps out, but Reynolds and McShaffrey are different from other theater couples because they are both directors. Reynolds said he “couldn’t imagine not having the same passion as his partner.”

Reynolds describes their relationship as an “ebb and flow…there is the joy of coming home and caring about the same things, talking about the same things, sharing the same love for students, but also, [we] can’t get away from [theater].”

McShaffrey shared similar views when he said the pros and cons are inseparable.

“We know the time it takes and what it takes to do what we do,” he said. “We do exactly the same thing, but we both have different opinions. There is very little competition.”

McShaffrey and myself both believe that relationships would be more difficult if the couple consisted of two actors or an actor and director because the hierarchy and competition are factors that cannot be ignored. McShaffrey offers some advice by saying, “find someone who loves and appreciates the art, but who isn’t necessarily in it. Leave the show in the rehearsal space. Have a balanced life. Find other things to talk about. Take a vacation somewhere without theater!”

In general, as far as intradepartmental relationships go, there is a baseline rule which Reynolds highlights so perfectly.

“Attraction won’t carry a relationship. Respect what they do or you’re in trouble. Respect their art, you don’t have to ‘like’ everything they do, but you have to respect it,” Reynolds said.

Relationships in the realm of theater are as unpredictable and unexpected as theater itself. There’s the good, the bad and the ugly — but the glue to a successful theater relationship is a little something Aretha Franklin spelled as R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Goodnight, my dear born-again theater lovers,


P.S. Where are my cheese and cupcake platters? I’m poor — remember?

Marcie Anker can be reached at

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