Making student theatre is hard. There is never enough space on campus, there are never enough weekends to perform, and there is never enough time to rehearse. Students are always involved in multiple projects simultaneously. The life of a Vassar student making theatre is characterized by late night meetings, extra rehearsals on the weekends and exhausting tech weeks. The amount of energy students put into theatre is overwhelming. When I come home from a long rehearsal or another late night, it is easy to forget why I make theatre. Self-doubt creeps in, and I begin to wonder if all of this is worth it. I mean, I chose this—it’s student theatre. I am not getting class credit; I am not advancing my degree by working this hard. So why am I doing this? There are a couple of key things that keep me going—reasons why theatre is important both in my life and to the Vassar community.
Vassar is full of theatre-makers. Each theatre organization on campus has their own artistic intent, and each produces work that expresses what is important to them. With so many plays performed on campus, Vassar students can engage in a dialogue about what kind of work we are seeing, what kind of work we want to see and how to create new, innovative performances. We support our fellow theatre makers by seeing shows that they perform in. Student theatre creates a sense of community. Working on shows builds friendships on campus and strengthens the Vassar community as a whole.
There is something magical about student theatre. We are not controlled by an academic department, or required to fulfill certain criteria. Student theatre is for the students, by the students and reflects what the students want to say. We face challenges, most notably when there is not enough space. There is never enough performance space on campus, and student groups have to negotiate in-demand spaces cooperatively. We mediate conflicts and delegate spaces ourselves, without institutional supervision. More and more directors are exploring site-specific work, performing outdoors or even performing in classrooms and dorm parlors. The students are in control. In my four years at Vassar, I have learned more from my commitments as an actor, director and producer in student theatre than I have in a classroom. It is hands-on experience in my professional field. Many of my strongest friendships were made through student theatre as well. Making art together is unbelievably fun, builds ties and creates a sense of accomplishment that everyone can share. Completing a production and finally performing for an audience is immensely satisfying—getting to share that with my closest friends is a gift that I hold dear.
Student theatre is not perfect; this sense of community also creates a sense of exclusion, the feeling that if you don’t “get in” freshman year, you are left out. Philaletheis is striving to change that this year, by emphasizing special events and opportunities that are broader than just getting cast in the first show for which you audition. We want to respond to the opinions and desires of the greater Vassar community, not only people who participate in theatre. Phil is interested in sponsoring special events that bring speakers to campus and spur dialogue.
Theatre can be a powerful way to instigate change, and we are exploring what Phil can do better, and what Phil can do more of. I am writing this article because of my love for student theatre, and the immense impact it has had on my Vassar career. But I am also writing this as an invitation—if you are a student who has thought about theatre but never pursued it, or maybe have never considered theatre, but want to explore what this community has to offer, it is never too late to get involved. If you are ready for the late nights and long rehearsals, then student theatre is ready for you.
-Madie Oldfield ’15 is a drama and Italian double major and is the president of Philaletheis.