Student Blog: Look What Happened To … Emily!

A recent moment of joy on campus that saw so many stages of my growth (photo by Binah Schatsky)

Four years ago I was singing Jerry Herman’s “Look What Happened to Mabel” at college auditions. This week I started my senior year in the musical theater program at Northwestern University. Unsurprisingly, it has been a week full of reflection, and as I realize how much growth and change can – and has happened – since the fall of the first year feels like simultaneously like yesterday and like a lifetime ago, this song perhaps feels more applicable today. that was the last time I sang it. I used to hear from old people so often that they felt like a totally different person than they were in first grade. But college seemed to be so short and already so fast – how was there time for such a transformation? However, as I put myself in their shoes this week, I understand: I have changed and matured dramatically as a person – not so much in a radical new direction, but in a sense of coming more fully into myself and into being. finding those people among whom I can be more fully myself.

Perhaps the biggest thing I have found since walking the halls of the theater building for the first time three years ago this week has been the confidence in my right to a place in the art spaces. . As a freshman, meeting new and intimidatingly talented peers every day, it constantly seems necessary to prove yourself – to prove that you are smart and talented and that you deserve to be seen and listened to and to take your place. an artistic community. And in the midst of this constant comparison of yourself with everyone around you, impostor syndrome makes a dramatic entrance. The summer after my first year, an acting coach and mentor reminded me of something that has become something of a mantra: “You have the right to be where you are”. Reminding myself of this constantly anchored me, centered and relaxed with a lot of effect in my art work (and in my personal life), but it was only this fall that it finally started to be really true. In my classes, I find myself focused on myself, as well as my own artistry, growth and experience, in a much more current, open, non-comparison and non-judgmental way.

My course goals – and even my course choice – have also changed. As a serious dancer, I rehearse dance lessons often, and this term I’m taking a musical theater dance class focused on rehearsal processes that I last did in my first term at Northwestern. The first time I took the course, I was primarily an interpreter and the goals I set in an assignment at the start of the term were exclusively performance-oriented. As I prepare to write the same article, I realize that the choreographic work that has become at the center of my artistic identity over the past 3 years has transformed my goals: while some will still be performance oriented, I I will also have the ambition to recognize tactics for running healthy rehearsal rooms and creating movement. This term, I am also taking a directing course for the first time. Freshman Emily had a shy interest in choreography, but if you had asked her if she was a director, she would have answered with a confident “no”. But at the heart of my emergence as a choreographer over the past three years has been the process of finding my voice in a rehearsal room. After years and years of doing almost silently what I have been told in dance and theater, I have discovered that I am not only able to have voice, power and agency in a hall. of rehearsal, but that this voice can have a positive impact on the other artists in the room I am directing, and on the audience who will be watching the work I am creating. It’s an incredible feeling that became one of my favorite things in the choreographic process, and made me imagine maybe taking on more important theatrical directing roles (like directing).

These achievements are tied to a larger transformation that has occurred: a shift from a strictly defined artistic identity (I was an actress, who may have dabbled in choreography and taught as needed) to a confident openness around this identity. Today I consider myself primarily as a theater artist – I can specialize in certain disciplines, and I take pride in my trajectory of growth in the aspects of theater in which I have been trained for most of my time. life, but I am also proud of my work in these disciplines that I have only recently approached, I am still only at the beginning of my theatrical career, and I know above all that I love to do theater. Far from making me a jack-of-all-trades, master of nothing, my experience in a flexible bachelor’s degree program focused on balance (consisting for me of a major in theater, a certificate in musical theater and ‘a minor in World Literature) left me with an incredibly specific sense of who I am as an artist, in combination with this openness to what my background can be.

This multi-faceted identity has become a priority in the thesis specializing in theater that I recently started, for which I serve as creator / screenwriter / director / choreographer / playwright / designer and who knows what else. . The project also reflects another major shift that I have recognized: the shift from more general and passionate ideals about the ‘power that changes the world of theater’ to a more concrete and confident sense of difference that I have. can to do in the world, in a very specific way, through theatrical work. In my thesis, I examine the trope of “ingenuous” and teenage on stage (a topic that excites me a lot – see my previous blog post). I examine its real impact – on young female performers like myself whose attempts to sell themselves require sneaking into this tightly prescribed box, and on audience members who are often offered a specific (and perhaps questionable) narrative. ) by the ubiquity of this type. It’s not just about doing poetry about the power of theater anymore, it’s always exciting to realize that through extensive academic research, discussions, workshops, rehearsals and sharing, I will imagine ways to practice drama that could bring real change to the experiences of those affected by this topic.

Student Blog: Look What Happened To ... Emily!
This petite freshman who started her freshman three years ago this week had no idea what trip her college experience had in store for her.

And in the midst of all of the evolving accomplishments of the week, there has been a renewed recognition of that constant little fire that the theater kindles in my soul. As I attended my very first class of senior year (a comedy-focused drama class) at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, I suddenly gained a greater appreciation for the two-year drama sequence program at Northwestern. which places you with the same cohort and the same teacher for each term of your second and junior years. But as I found just as much to love about the new teacher and the classmates of this senior subject class, my overwhelming feeling was simply a ravenous hunger for acting training. This training was at the heart of my university experience, and it was this thirst for it that pushed me through times when studying theater is stressful, difficult and frightening. With this burning hunger in my stomach more than ever, I can’t wait to jump into everything this senior year has in store.

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