Little more than two weeks into classes, with a newfound major and a newfound sense of cynicism, I am left with one question on my brain: did I make the correct decision in my modified, but still fundamentally similar major?
This summer, I remained on Boston University’s campus with a 9-5+ job, working days in the Orientation Office, and scrambling about as one of two photographers during session. What began as the obtaining of an interesting job to allow me to spend summer in Boston became a question of what the hell it is I want to do with my life.
My time here last year was spent in misery, fighting desperately to stay afloat in a department that I could not feel grounded in. Early second semester, I met with people who had previously left the School of Theatre, and began to wonder if that was the right choice for me. I was ready to commit to the choice, when I was suddenly struck with an unyielding sense of nostalgia. I love theatre. I love the community, I love the art. How, I asked myself, could I bring myself to leave it? And so, I wrote a proposal and switched from a lighting design major to a theatre arts major, with an emphasis in scenic painting. I would be happy now, I thought. I could get back to my visual arts roots.
And then, the summer.
I worked a job that, though not quite as time consuming as theatre could be– with our production weeks totaling out to about 80 hours of work, along with homework on top of that– was certainly more than a 40 hour work week.
The difference, aside from the very welcome lack of work outside of the workplace, was the culture of self-care, and the feeling that something important was being done here. We were taught, time after time, the importance of advocacy, for ourselves, and for others. We were urged to take care of the students and guests arriving on campus for session, no matter what task we were in the middle of completing. More than that, we were urged to take care of ourselves similarly.
Much of the orientation programming, outside of creating academic schedules and meeting with advisors, was focused upon Common Ground, a value preached by Dr. Howard Thurman. Orientation was about not only the academic work, but about creating humanity in such a vast campus. It felt like something valuable, something that could actually evoke change.
It felt like something theatre should be.
In reading Mark Lord’s “The Dramaturgy Reader,” I found an eloquent voice to my own grievances with the theatre. I found that I do truly still love the theatre, and that I do not want to give up on it just yet. I find that I am not alone in this. Up until this piece, I had always felt that my concerns and problems were just jumbled thoughts shouted into the void that held no real impact, and had no cohesion. I felt as though they were just the ramblings of a person who was just, in fact, in the wrong major.
And yet, here is the proof that that is just not true.
In his piece, Mark Lord paints a metaphor that many people can relate to– the loss of wonder in the act of reading, caused by the monopoly of dry texts assigned to minds that yearn for the wonder of novels– and draws a comparison to this metaphor with his own disillusionment of theatre.
Further, he dissects his disenchantment, coming to the idea that “THE POINT” (Lord, pg 92) of theatre, the deep meaning that causes the wonder and engrossment with a piece of art, is absent from most all modern productions– and that theatre artists say that it is still there, though we know, deep down, that it is not.
Lord continues, bringing up the idea that theatre artists imagine the demise of the industry, wondering if the art form will be missed. And, he says, we “realize: Our work is not good enough” because “our theatre is not vital to our audiences” (Lord, pg. 93).
Lord’s work struck a chord with me. I felt more invested in his words than I have about much of the rest of my studies in the last year. I got into theatre, because as a pansexual, trans man, I felt accepted in the community in ways that I had not felt anywhere else. I got into theatre because of the reputation for inclusiveness, and subversiveness. And yet, theatre has become, somewhere along the line, an industry like any other, interested in marketing what it thinks the general public wants.
But the draw of the theatre has always been the controversy, the bravery to take stands that other forms of media and culture will not.
This is not meant to demonize commercial theatre. There will always, always, be a place for it.
But the theatre should be an industry of balance.
A balance of commercial and subversive.
And right now, the scales have tipped.
What results is a large population of theatre students, who are too jaded by what seems to be a deeply ingrained culture of denial at this point, to do anything about it.
Perhaps I am just a person who is in the wrong major. I have no concrete evidence to say that that is not true.
Perhaps I will leave theatre within a semester.
Perhaps I will leave theatre after I graduate.
But perhaps I will try and find the vital theatre there is to make, too.