*This reflection was sparked by Sarah Ruhl’s gorgeous remarks on the endurance of writing in a Trumpian moment. Read it, be inspired.*
When we read Sarah Ruhl’s Passion Play in first semester Drama Lit, my life changed. Seriously.
I was taking the class as a sophomore. At the end of my freshman year, I had auditioned as a transfer student for the BFA acting major. I didn’t get in. I was devastated. I read the rejection email as a message from God Himself, telling me that there just isn’t a place for me in the world of theatre.
That summer, I swore I would figure out a new major. My previously declared “English major with a concentration in Dramatic Literature” felt too close to the theatre world for which I was clearly not good enough. I remained registered for Drama Lit because of scheduling conflicts.
I hated going to that class every Monday and Friday afternoon. Each time I walked into room 104, I felt like a failure all over again. There I was: a lost and confused sophomore in a sea of bright-eyed freshman who were all “good” enough to get into the program that I had so desperately wanted.
I was embarrassed to be there. I felt stupid for even trying to have been “one of them.” I think I raised my hand two times throughout the whole semester (not a great choice for my participation grade). I felt so inferior to the BFAs that I pretty much shut my voice off completely.
And then we read Passion Play.
I had never experienced such a poignant, nuanced engagement with the effects of Christianity. I had never understood a play structure so well, or appreciated the relationship between form and content in such a way.
Sarah Ruhl literally helped me to rediscover my voice. I had been struggling with how to reconcile the conflict between the faith I was brought up in and the things I knew in my heart to be true.
I grew up in an every-Sunday type of white churchgoing family. The church we went to preached the Missouri Synod sect of Lutheranism… one of the most conservative branches of teaching.
A brief list of things I was taught as a child in Sunday School:
Women are not allowed to be ordained. Being gay is a repeated sin- which means you’re going to Hell for it. The LGBTQ+ spectrum is not recognized as legitimate. The world was created in seven 24-hour days. Sex before marriage basically guarantees a divorce. Last but certainly not least, the Bible is the Word of God, breathed directly from His mouth; therefore, every word of it must be taken literally.
EVERY WORD. LITERALLY. There was an uproar among the church elders when a man with a sleeve of tattoos joined the church (Leviticus 19:28).
Passion Play unearthed a realization in me that I have a unique perspective. I understood the play in a deeper sense than a lot of the people around me, because I knew what it felt like to have Christianity (problematic as it is) be a major factor in my identity. For the first time all semester, I felt like I had something to contribute to class discussion. I felt emboldened to explore the relationship between religion and theatre. I felt like I had something to write about. I felt like maybe, just maybe, I could find a place for myself in the theatre.
Since first semester sophomore year, I have taken a HUGE chill pill and gotten over myself enough to know that plenty of people stay involved in the theatre without a BFA. I’ve gone through much lower lows than not getting into an acting program. I can see now how all of the joy and heartbreak of the last 4 years has led me to this point.
On December 20th when we present our Dramaturgy projects, I will finish my undergraduate degree. I will enter the world as a fully-fledged adult, even though I still don’t really know what that means. I will make theatre. I will surround myself with it. And when I inevitably face rejection, I will remember how I felt when I read the last sentence of Passion Play and thought, “Don’t give up. Your voice matters too.”