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Is a Career in Theater Selfish?

Amanda considers how theater and its practitioners can have a positive impact on society.

By

Amanda Charney, TMU contributor and sophomore at USC

Now we're well into October, the time of the school year where all hell breaks loose. People are falling ill right and left, midterms bring doom and gloom to people's days, and it seems like the only light at the end of the tunnel is the train coming faster and faster.

But don't let me ruin your mood if October is great for you! This week, regardless of the stress and the sickness, I was able to find time to volunteer at a local animal adoption service. As an animal lover, this was not so much work for me as it was a chance to be around some sweet pets and hopefully see some of them off to good homes. But as I held the leash of a trembling Italian Greyhound/Chihuahua mix (a very sad-looking dog, to tell the truth), I thought to myself, "Isn't this the sort of thing I should be doing with my life, instead of performing?"

One of the hesitations I have with committing my life to performing is the worry that it is a selfish career choice. I sometimes feel self-conscious when I talk to people who want to be pediatricians, environmentalists, or activists, people who are devoting their lives to serving others and making the world a better place. When you consider theater superficially as a whirl of costumes, makeup, and drama, there's no wonder it's often thought of as self-indulgent.

But it is a choice, after all. Theater does not have to be an egocentric endeavor; There are plenty of opportunities to be an actor, dancer, or singer and still make an enormously positive impact on the world! Even as a student in college, there are endless chances to be involved with both theater and community service/charity organizations, some on a national (and even international) level.

Perhaps you've heard of "Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS?" In May 1992, Equity Fights AIDS and Broadway Cares merged to become the not-for-profit fundraising organization it is today. Since 1988, over $195 million has been raised for essential services for people with AIDS across the country. Now try to tell me theater can't make a difference!

Theatrical performances can raise not only funds, but awareness as well. Another charity organization is Broadway Barks, established by renowned actresses Bernadette Peters and Mary Tyler Moore. These animal-loving, incredibly talented performers originally created Broadway Barks to promote the adoption of shelter animals. Since then, it has evolved into an event that unifies shelters and rescue groups that, separately, often go unheard. The organization raises awareness about spaying and neutering, humaneness, and rescue shelters. Their ultimate goal is to make New York City a no-kill community by eliminating animal euthanasia.

Closer to home, the annual V-day event, a movement to stop violence against women, has spread to colleges across the nation, including USC. At USC, A yearly production of The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler is performed by students to raise awareness for the cause. The play involves a variety of monologues by women revolving around the theme of female empowerment and individuality. In 1998, Ensler founded V-Day, a "nonprofit grass roots movement dedicated to ending violence against women around the world." Since then, it has taken root in over 20 countries, protesting violence and the mistreatment of women and inspiring millions to take action.

Whenever I wonder if I'll be able to make an impact on the world through performance, I remember that acting and being a contributing member of society are certainly not mutually exclusive. In fact, one of my favorite lessons I have learned in college so far is that theater is the ultimate exercise in finding your humanity and discovering what ultimately connects every member of the human race.

That's the mistake people make when they think of performers as self-centered people. They forget that acting is an external thing, a reflection of and experiment with every kind of person. And with the right tools and motivation, theater can (and does) make a colossal impact on the world.

P.S. Want to know more about some of these causes?

Click here to learn more about Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS

Click here to learn more about Broadway Barks

Click here to learn more about V-day


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