The Real Value Behind Collegiate Theater Productions
Amanda Charney describes the value of the college theater experience, as opposed to professional theater.
Ah, the first week of a new semester. For many, it means no discussions, getting let off the hook for being late to a few classes, and tediously reviewing each professor's syllabus.
For a theater student, it means a week of hell.
It may not be true at other schools, but here at USC, all auditions for mainstage theater productions are held during the first week of classes. When you think about it, it's reasonable; if students are cast, they get the chance to change their schedule, get to know what their weeks will be like for the entire semester, and get the "painful part" over with right off the bat! No sense in drawing it out, right?
Of course, even though there are long-term benefits, there is still an immense amount of pressure when there are 5 different auditions to prepare for. Each one could require something different too, leaving you with the task of nailing a musical theater piece, dramatic two-minute monologue, and classical comedic speech. Undoubtedly, theater students competing for those coveted spots in mainstage shows have their work cut out for them.
Which raises the question of why we go through all that. What motivates the people that commit to the crazy schedule of 4+ hours of rehearsal every night of the week? What makes productions by students different than others?
1) Opportunities to perform
This may seem obvious, but by participating in student productions, you are simply given the chance to be in a show. When we graduate and go out into the professional world, standing in front of a panel of directors is probably the most performing we'll get for a while.
Not only this, but the array of parts you are able to play is much larger in college productions than the opportunities given professionally. The shows selected will most likely have characters who are older than you, younger than you, or just not your type. In the professional world, why cast a 20-year-old in the role of a mother, when you can have a 40-year-old just as easily? Student productions give us that chance to play parts we'd otherwise have to wait years for.
2) Meeting people
Nothing bonds people together like spending 20 hours a week working on a production. For all of you who have done theater in the past, I'm sure you've encountered that show you never wanted to end, where you hugged everyone in the cast crying when that final curtain came down.
But even beyond the more emotional benefits, there are practical ones too. These other actors you work with are also going out into the professional world, and they will remember your name. People tend to trust those they know for a good performance.
In professional shows, time is limited, money is tight, and directors are stressed. The benefit of doing a show in college is that while everyone wants to make the show great, it's the process that is the focus. Once you're out there in the professional world, you're expected to already be on top of your game, although you will undoubtedly gain a lot of knowledge and experience. Use student productions as a way to really explore your strengths and diminish your weaknesses.
Not only is there incredible value in student productions for actors, but also for those who attend their productions. Ben Chiewphasa, currently a sophomore at Denison University, puts it more eloquently than I ever could: "A production requires time, effort, and plenty of heart and soul…What makes collegiate productions even better for a college student is being able to see how a part of your community created something so complex and exciting."
It's truly exceptional when students put on a production, and sometimes they can even have a bigger impact when they're on a college campus. Throughout history, students have been some of the most influential groups of people in our country. As Sarah Mitchell of Southern Oregon University puts it, "Theatre really has an opportunity to say something, especially when it's students saying it…[J]ust in the way [people] might attend a student art gallery, I think seeing plays is important. Art for art's sake."
Whether you become involved in college theater, or just love to go support your friends in their productions, remember; it is a unique experience with its own set of benefits and pitfalls. Collegiate productions give students of all majors the opportunity to experience works of art, and maybe are inspired to go out and create for themselves!