After 12 hours, my legs were concrete slabs barely attached to the rest of my body. My heart was beating so quickly and I swear the people next to me in line could hear it and were contemplating calling 911. Sweat was forming and dripping seemingly from every pore in my body and my brain was overwhelmed with an incessant buzzing, intermittently interrupted with the lyrics to “I Hope I Get It”.
The picture I have just painted you was me after a typical winter stock rehearsal for my college’s production of A Chorus Line. My school was not known for its musical theatre program, and yet it proved time and time again, during my tenure, that it was one of quality, professionalism, and challenge. Throughout the demanding rehearsal process of this particular show, I may have been unable to drag myself up two flights of stairs to my bedroom every night but boy did I feel accomplished.
That is, until one day, when relaying my rehearsal schedule to one of my friends back home over the phone, I heard the following statement: “That sounds crazy but it’s not like you’re a college athlete or anything.”
As I sat there on the phone with a heating pad on my back, while simultaneously icing my foot, devouring a protein shake, and determinedly trying not to fall asleep with my eyes open; I could not believe what I was hearing. Then, upon further reflection, I could understand.
College sports have long been revered, recognized, and put on a pedestal. It is no secret that the recruitment process to play competitive collegiate athletics is extremely difficult, and that student-athletes face the challenge of being just that: a student and an athlete. They are frequently required to travel on weekends, have workouts early in the morning, and practices during the day. I am not; whatsoever, diminishing the time, effort, and pressure put on student-athletes or minimizing what they do. In fact, I come from a family of athletes. One of my siblings is currently playing a Division II sport and the other is being actively recruited. My father, uncle, and two paternal cousins were all college athletes as well. Even I was a competitive athlete until I got to college. I get it.
What I don’t understand is why people do not see participating in rigorous performing arts programs as being as much of a challenge, or giving theatre participants the same recognition.
We work for months to create one product, or one show, that thousands of people will see. This show we put on will be an indelible mark on the history of the college’s theatre program, and we only get about four to six performances to get it right and make an impact on an audience. If we’re lucky. After that show is over, and it could be months before we have another opportunity to put up a show again, without any guarantees. This applies especially to people, like myself, who are primarily actors.
We land that leading role and give our soul and every ounce of effort we have to it, only for it to be over in a fleeting moment and face an indefinite amount of time as to when such a role will come around again, or any role for that matter.
I have been involved in theatre, and not one year has gone by where I have not been in or at least been a part of a show. Unfortunately now, when theatre will return to my life post-graduation remains to be seen.
To compare, this is like asking an athlete to attend their practices every single day, dedicate their existence to the sport they love, and only be able to play one tournament on one weekend and then leaving the athlete completely unaware of when the next time they will get to play.
In reality, we aren’t so different after all.
We both have tryouts, or auditions in other words. Athletes spend their weekends traveling across the country, practicing long hours, and strategizing for the next game. Theatre people spend their weekend doing run-throughs, tedious cue-to-cues, hanging lights, and building sets. Although the level of physical exertion isn’t always the same (unless you are performing in A Chorus Line, then you win hands down), the mental and emotional dedication, perseverance, anxieties, and passion are universal.
Most athletes don’t play their sport in college because they think they’re the next Michael Jordan or Derek Jeter, just like we theatre people don’t perform because we think we’re the next Bette Midler or Chita Rivera.
We do it because it is what we love, what identifies us, and represents a piece of ourselves that we are not yet ready to let go of as emerging adults, or “real people,” as they say.
I have performed in front of thousands of people. I have directed, choreographed, props mastered, and run an efficient box office. I have worked hard and so, this article is dedicated to my friend who tried to make me feel lesser than because I just “did shows”.
After four years of college theatre, I feel just as accomplished as an athlete who has won a conference title or made an all-star team.
Hard work is hard work, even if the goals we are working for are not the same. It is only by recognizing this fact that we will truly understand and respect one another’s passions.
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