There are a lot of different things that people define themselves by or others define them by, regardless of whether they are right or wrong (of course it is a question, if it’s even possible to have a “right” or “wrong” definition of a person). But despite stereotypes or characterizations of people, one thing that seems to remain true is that if you’re a theater kid, you’re a “theater kid.”
After every opening night of a show, my cast would go out to Shari’s, a 24-hour diner nearby, and the girls would order their food while the boys went out to do their “secret tradition” behind the diner. (Everyone knew they just stood in a circle and drank root beer out of the bottle, but we pretended we had no idea so that they could still have their fun.) Sitting there, with the whole cast around me, making the waitresses mad because we could never seem to order in one go, and eating hash browns and a side pickle is one of my all-time favorite memories from back home. And this is an experience I can share only with my theater friends.
My friends and I used to joke about how when people would ask someone who does theater to go out and do something with them, to go to their house, to go see a movie, to attend a party, the classic response will always be: I can’t, I have rehearsal. The next day? I have rehearsal. How about this weekend? Cast party. Before that? Rehearsal.
There is something special about being part of theater and about being a “theater kid.” Unlike many sports, you aren’t competing for scholarships, but you can be serious about making a career out of theater or you can simply be having fun, something that the competitive edge of sports loses. And when you are part of a theater group, you are part of a family. You spend days and nights together, support each other, listen to each other, love each other, annoy each other and no matter what you are doing, you’re forced to be together, a lot like with your brothers and sisters.
So what’s a “theater kid”? Is it the person who likes to attend Comicon and write fan-fiction? Is it the diva who has to be the star of everything? Is it the person who finds comfort in “the weird theater kids”? Is it the person who sits around the auditorium any time they have a free hour? No, it’s anybody. It’s a group of individuals that can be completely different from one another but find something very important in common together, and that’s what makes it special. Being a theater kid isn’t about being like every other theater kid in the world, it’s about coming together from all parts of social backgrounds and creating wonderful bonds from that. In theater, age doesn’t matter; your friends are your friends no matter what class they are in. Money doesn’t matter, grades don’t matter, backgrounds don’t matter, social groups don’t matter. No previous definitions matter among theater kids.
When I moved from my first high school, I had to leave many people I had known behind, but the part that hit me the most was sitting with my theater class during Senior Circle. This was an annual tradition at the end of the year where the whole class comes together on the stage and the seniors have the chance to make a short speech about their time there, about what they took from their experience and how much it meant to them. And there has never been a senior circle without tears; no matter if it was your first semester in the class or you have been with these people for years, the bond that all those rehearsals and all that intense time spent together has formed is something that feels unbreakable no matter how long you have known each other. Since I was moving that year, I got to say something in our Senior Circle as well and when it was my turn to speak, I looked around and realized that these were the people that I would miss. I had my best friends I’d known since primary school but the people in that circle were the ones who knew me best. They had seen me embarrass myself on stage multiple times, struggle with combing myself to another character. They had seen me as stressed as I could be, as carefree as I could be, at my happiest, at my saddest – they’d seen it all. And that was something that I couldn’t replace.
Then, when I moved to my second high school, to a place where the students had all gone to school together for the last twelve years, I made some of the best friends I’ve ever had after joining theater, because they didn’t care about not knowing who I was or that I couldn’t talk about all the things we had done together in the past; they just cared about me being someone who shared an interest with them, something that I wasn’t able to find anywhere else in the school. After moving, I would try and talk to some of my old friends about our new lives but all they could say was what was going on with people at the school, people that I didn’t know about or things that I couldn’t relate to. But when I talked to my old theater friends, we could compare shows, talk about how rehearsals were going, what the director was planning on doing next and how the styles of our theater teachers differed or were the same. I never found myself in the situation where I couldn’t relate to them, while I lost touch with some of my other best friends because we simply couldn’t talk about anything together anymore.
Theater crosses boundaries.
But why? What makes theater so different? What creates something that can define you so well without actually containing you at all?
Everyone has inside jokes with their friends, but in my opinion, there is nothing quite like the jokes that theater kids have with one another. The blatantly inappropriate jokes that begin on the first day and just get more inappropriate as you spend way too much time together are irreplaceable. Many people can attest to the untranslatability of theater jokes to those not in theater. Maybe calling your theater teacher’s office a “Sex Dungeon” doesn’t reflect the deepest connection, but it certainly reflects an intense degree of comfort. And I believe that that is what makes theater so different, why it can define you without trapping you into some stereotype: these are the people that you will be absolutely comfortable being yourself around, and so that definition isn’t calling you anything but “yourself.” To theater kids, that’s who you are; you are you and they love that.
And I can’t say if that comes from the immense amount of time spent together or from having to show yourself bare and understand yourself in order to become a character, or if it comes from being in a community known to be one of the most accepting groups of people you will ever meet. But whatever it is, it’s there: being a theater kid is an experience that is difficult to find elsewhere.
Maybe theater kids are strange, maybe they have weird relationships with each other that make no sense, maybe they spend a lot of time making things more inappropriate than they have to be, maybe they are a little too obsessed with performing, maybe they won’t speak to anyone during ‘Hell Week’ – the week before opening night – maybe they are unusually touchy, maybe they won’t understand the concepts of awkwardness or shame amongst each other, maybe they live at the theater, maybe they’ve all seen each other basically naked, maybe they drink more coffee than water, maybe they get a bit too excited about musicals coming to town, maybe what happens back stage stays back stage.
But I am more proud of being a theater kid than anything else any one has defined me by.
And as my theater career has continued on into my college experience, I am excited to share the special qualities that it has with the new Performing Arts Club here at Bard College Berlin.