The Four Realities of a College Theatre Program, That No One Prepares You For

The Four Realities of a College Theatre Program, That No One Prepares You For

Chris Peterson

  • OnStage Editor-in-Chief
  • @onstageblog

For incoming college freshman, you're probably getting a ton of communication from your colleges about what to prepare for this coming fall. It probably includes what to pack, choice of meal plans, Resident Life tips, etc. 

But for theatre majors, there isn't a whole lot the school can do to help prepare you for what's truly ahead of you for the next four years. How could they? Being a theatre major has its own set of challenges and triumphs. Having come from a program like this, I know that many of the people I've talked have had the same experiences. For BFA students, it's going to be a bit different but maybe some of this applies to you as well. 

1. Humility (Should) Come Quickly

You may be coming from a high school where you've gotten every single lead role. You may have been cast in every show you auditioned for. You may have won thespian awards and other accolades. But now you're about to jump into a much bigger talent pool. 

It might take a couple of years to start getting the roles you really want. You may have to be cast in smaller roles, or even not at all. You may be the most talented person at your high school, but once you start your college program, you may be in a classroom full of the most talented performers from their respective high schools as well. 

This can be a jarring reality for many college freshman. They've been at the top of their classes back home but have to basically start from the bottom and work their way up again. The students who have picked up on this early on and set themselves on a course to work their tails off and be noticed, will do very well for the next four years. The ones that don't? Well it's going to be a rough time for them. 

The trick is to understand that as a Freshman, that your job is to be a sponge for the next year. You're not going to be the star of your school, so take the time to soak up as much information, training and advice you can. Learn from your classmates and start developing trusting relationships, they're going to be your cast-mates for the next four years. 

2. You're Going to Revolt

Even if you're attending one of the best Theatre Programs in the country, there are going to be things about it that you don't like about it. This will probably set in during your sophomore and junior years. You're going to start wondering why you have to take classes in our subject areas, why your program doesn't do more musicals or plays or films or one act festivals. In other words, you're going to want to start a revolution. 

The results of this usually are student run theatre groups, special performances and other events. My advice? Do it. But do it with the appreciation of what you're still being given within your college. It's more than likely that your college is giving you some fantastic opportunities, so there is nothing wrong with wanting more of them. 

3. Late Night Talks Are Life Changing

Rehearsals will run late, especially during tech week. Since your minds are still going to be racing, it's only natural for you and your friends to go to a late night diner to talk. It's likely that these conversations will stretch for hours. 

My advice? Let this happen and let it happen as much as possible. Something special happens when you and your friends are talking over coffee at a Dennys at 2 AM. Ideas are sparked, inside jokes are created and casts bond. These will be some of the most memorable and valuable experiences of your college experience. 

4. Your Last Show

Depending on the program you're attending, you're going to have the chance to be in plenty of different productions. And while each show is special for its own reasons, what no one can prepare you for, is what happens during "Your Last Show". 

It won't really hit you till it's almost over, but when it does, it's going to feel like a ton of bricks. 

Whether it's getting dressed in that dressing room one last time or walking onto that stage for the last time, every single moment is going to be special. 

For me it was my senior year production of Violet. I was on stage during the finale, "Bring Me to Light", and then it hit me. I realized that after over a dozen productions, I would never perform on that stage again. And that's when I felt that lump in my throat. 

You'll feel it too. And as painful as it is, it's a positive feeling. It means that the past four years have been some of the best times of your life and the how special the people are around you. 

So enjoy the next four years. Learn from your mistakes. Build from your successes. Meet as many people as you can. And remember, be a sponge. This is the time to take in as much as you can. 

 Photo: That's me performing in a one act play in college.

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