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Imminent Collapse When the Stage Becomes Your World

By Bill Andrews

In case you have been too busy to notice (and, gee, what are the odds of that), we are in the midst of MIT’s thespian cycle. Shakespeare Ensemble went last week, MTG’s going this week, Dramashop’s this week, and Gilbert and Sullivan’s coming up; and that’s just the mainstream groups. So, unless you are a complete shut in (and, hey, what are the odds of that), you probably know someone involved in some way with some show.

And while, statistically speaking, there’s a chance you might be part of a show, you probably aren’t. Which is fine, of course, except that you have no idea what it’s like. So, in the interest of keeping you educated, allow me to tell you: being in a show takes over your life like a hammy director. Which is a lot.

Perhaps you think I am using that old chestnut of the literary trade, hyperbole? No, no, a thousand times no! From the humbling start at auditions to the exhausting finish striking the set, you really put in some serious hours working on something that won’t directly benefit you. And, sadly, it is the usually cast who suffers the worst of this. Actually, it’s not sad at all, because it is the cast who gets to be in the limelight, so why shouldn’t they do a lot of the work? But it’s sad for me, because I happen to be in the cast of a certain show that, in order to prevent any conflict of interest issues, I will refer to as Stellar Conflicts, the Tuneful Version.

Why, just the other day, I was speaking to another cast member who said he’d been skipping every class this last week, just to make sure the show would be ready for opening night. For you non-initiates, this means building the set, painting it, making it safe (or at least safer), setting up lights, sound effects, microphones, etc., etc., etc. It’s those etc.’s that kill you, because they keep popping up, and you can’t plan for them. Of course, he had it tough because he was a lead. That’ll teach you to be talented.

But, lead though I may not be, it’s still a lot of work. Learning lines and songs and putting up posters and everything. Oh sure, that may not sound like much, but that’s just the stuff you do on your own time, much like the lab class that expects you to do 14 hours’ worth of pre-reading. Actual rehearsals take up only a few hours a week at first, but as opening night comes closer and closer they take longer and longer, until finally, the last week, you’re rehearsing upwards of six hours a night everyday. Consider, if you’ve never done so, how your life would change if you lost six hours of it each day to a pursuit you might have begun just for the hell of it.

Which, to sound academic, begs the question: why the MIT do we do it? There’s no monetary benefit for us, no useful experience gained (unless you happen to be a drama major, but gosh, what are the odds of that), no real reason to give up control of your life for months at a time. Maybe it’s the ham in all of us, willing to do whatever it takes to be in the spotlight, to have crowds staring at and cheering for us? Yeah, that’s part of it sure, but what about all the chorus parts out there, people who have to give up all that time for only a few fleeting moments on stage? What about the directors, and producers, and the others who give up their entire lives for a show and never set foot in front of an audience?

Well, at the risk of being poetic, it’s because we love it. Which is foolish of course, I know. After all, I love video games but don’t give up hours at a time playing them (at least, not during the semester). But being in a show is different (especially a show like SC,TV). I could wax eloquent about the soul crying out for something artistic amid all the science, and the bond of friendship your forge with your cast-mates, and all that, but really, that’s all BS. It’s just because you love it.

So, if you happen not to love it, or perhaps not so much you give up your life for it, that’s fine. But you should know what’s out there, that some folks do love it that much, and what they give up for it. It’s not all about equations and numbers. Sometimes, it’s about the musical numbers.