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Why My Arts Training is Making Me the Person I Need to Be

I guess you could say I applied as a Stage Management major on a whim. I was labelled as the “stage manager” of my high school technical theatre group, but since we were primarily the school’s event production service I  did not get much experience with theatrical productions, and only dabbled in the actual duties and tasks of a theatrical stage manager. I didn’t really know what it meant to be a a stage manager, and only had ideas and dreams. I thought stage management would combine the two halves of my personality and skill set – the rational with the artistic, the organized with the imaginative. So I applied to the College of Fine Arts. (A fine artist? I still think. Right…)

I recall sensing a dramatic shift in myself upon entering college, even before the semester had actually started. Just a few days after moving in I was walking around Boston with my boyfriend at the time, and he commented on how much more outspoken and, for lack of a better word, “loud” (about my opinions) I seemed. Though I hadn’t noticed a difference, I realized he was right. I wasn’t sure what caused the shift, but knew I also didn’t care. I was happy to be bold. I knew it was a sign that I felt comfortable with where I was.

In my high school theatre program, there existed the stereotypical dichotomy of “crazy actors” versus “techies”. We weren’t interested in the actors, many of them were 6th – 8th graders, we didn’t exactly think they were all very talented, and we were pretty much just there to put up a show and make it look cool. Some of this mentality palpably bled over to freshman year in the BU  Design and Production core. In Dramatic Literature 101, all of the freshman D&P (20-30 people), freshman performance majors (50-60? more?), and a good group of theatre minors and others (10-15) were all crammed in the same class, which our professor operated discussion-style regardless of its large size. As myself and the other D&P majors racked our brains to think of something we cared to say about the reading that we had crammed in the night before after 8 hours of painting homework, we were in turn stunned by the statements that the freshman performance core so quickly and unapologetically volunteered. What if Ophelia had a penis? I just don’t get opera.The crack on this column could be considered art!

I learned to recognize that this open volunteering of information was not because actors are just “loud” or need to hear their own voices, but that it was part of their new training to speak up, to release the voice, to follow their impulse, and to participate in the conversation even if their thoughts were not perfectly and infallibly reasoned.

Over the years, I’ve had the privilege (primarily through the several following installments of Dramatic Literature classes) of watching this commitment to instinct, impulse, and honesty through vocal freedom develop and channel through careful analysis and intellectual thought. My peers have some really, very wonderful things to say. They speak truthfully about their own experiences and they own their points of view. Often, they are not afraid to ask a “tough” or controversial question.

I have recognized this capacity as developing in myself as well. It’s true that since coming to college, and more specifically, since participating in an extremely challenging course of training that has made me lose my dignity in some ways and own it in others, I am a “louder” person. When walking down Comm Ave with my friends, I have been known to sing, dance, “meow”, jazz-square, or basically do whatever the heck I want.

But it’s also much more than that. There is a difference between expressing oneself in a no-risk situation alongside a friend, and expressing oneself when there is something real and tangible at stake, and when it really and personally means something. I took Voice and Speech for non-majors sophomore year as part of my stage management training, and had a crash-course on healthy interpersonal communication, the role of body language, and the physical and psychological components of the voice. At the end of the semester, we each presented speeches on an issue that was meaningful to us. I spoke out about the female experience of sexual assault and street harassment. That semester was the first time I openly spoke about my personal connection to feminist issues and claimed ownership of my political stance on them. It was a scary thing to do, because it opened me up to questions and criticism that I wasn’t sure if I’d be prepared to face gracefully. But during that speech, my voice was so strong and clear, my face was warm, my eyes were bright and invigorated and I felt like the power of a thousand women was rushing through my blood and bones. It was invigorating and it felt beautiful. In another class, I read poems I had written about my personal experiences in a past relationship that interrogated and spoke to my own feminist questions. They were performed at the end of the semester by members of the class. My voice, my words were out there, and there was nothing I could do to take them back. I did feel vulnerable, like people were seeing my insides. I also felt, after experiencing it a few times, that this was okay. I was exposed, but proud, and cognizant of the amazing things that I too had to say.

All of these experiences as part of my arts training have contributed to a freer expression of my point of view and a stronger ownership of my voice – and therefore, self. I am one of the most consistent volunteers of opinion in my women’s studies class, and I do not feel afraid or hesitant to offer what I feel may be an unpopular point of view, if I believe in it heartily. I no longer feel the need to apologize for my thoughts or ideas. In almost all areas in my life, when something does not sit right with me, I need to speak up about it. When I feel a strong feeling that affects my relationship to others, I voice it. (“I feel pretty nervous right now. I just want to express that.”) When I walk into an interview, or even up to a check-out counter, I am comfortable inviting the other person in to who I am, and allowing them to see me. Though sometimes I have a tendency to swing too far in the direction of asserting myself (as I described in a previous blog, “Hard and Soft“), I am comfortable with having that kind of problem. I think I’d rather work on being softer than being a harder person. Given my past experiences, that is.

Some people think of artists, especially theatre artists, as outlandish or even obnoxious because of their tendency to openness in voice, emotion, and impulse. But as Arcade Fire says on their most recent album, “Is anything as strange as a normal person?” There shouldn’t be anything “normal” about bottling up one’s voice and oneself in order to be perceived as more appropriate or socialized – it’s like trying to fit a square-shaped feeling through a triangle-shaped societal construct. I feel my arts training is making me a healthier, more comfortable person. If that makes me a stranger, healthier, more comfortable person, I’m okay with that. I believe it’s put me on the path that’s right for me.

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