As much as people tend to say that they have plenty of friends in the theatre industry, it probably sounds shocking when I say I don’t. People say that theatre is an accepting place (especially when it comes to the LGBTQ community), and though that claim is mostly true they forget that this is a cutthroat business. When you have friends in theatre, you have cheerleaders, and that means they won’t cheer for the other team, meaning people like me.
It shouldn’t be a revelation that even the theatre industry isn’t as accepting as people say they are, but no one is talking about it other than the petty competition. It’s not even so much acceptance that’s the issue, but the lack of support of one another. Not everyone has people cheering them on in the aisles, screaming their name, and we never hear about the stories of those who don’t. Well, now you’re going to hear mine, or part of it anyway.
I cannot tell you how many classes I wanted to skip because I didn’t match the same preppy or outgoing level as the rest of my classmates and was left out and overlooked. I also can’t tell you how many of my classmates cried at the end of the semester for leaving their “family” and I wondered how on earth they could feel that way when they wanted nothing to do with me all year.
Every drama class I felt discouraged to do my craft because I had nothing but polite applause for me when the teacher calls my name to deliver a monologue, meanwhile before me, someone else with more friends had a thunderous standing ovation for the same monologue, before they even perform it. I can tell they’re not interested in anything I have to say, script or not, unless I’m their friend, even then, it depends on how close I am to them. And no, this was not just high school, this is university, too.
In high school, I was discouraged from playing leads in class because I wasn’t popular in the dramatic arts, but I still got them in musicals and was even proclaimed to be the favourite of the audience when I played The Witch in Into the Woods. But after getting a lead or positive feedback from a teacher, the cheerleaders wanted to see me fail even more. They even went out of their way to see the show I had written and directed, and left with the review of “It wasn’t that bad but only because I had such low expectations!” (yes, they tweeted that word for word).
In University, I thought I would finally be among my peers, people who understood what it was like to be an outcast, have your talent put to waste because people thought you weren’t worth it. But when I asked my new classmates, they all said that they were popular, and I was once again alone.
It’s not that I don’t have cheerleaders, or friends in theatre, but they have more cheerleaders than I and don’t relate, or they aren’t interested in theatre (unless I’m in them) so I am left to listen to show tunes and rehearse lines alone because they have better things to do, better people to spend time with. It’s so easy to tell me to just talk to people, but once cliques are made, they’re hard to break. And when you don’t have cheerleaders, it’s hard to feel like anyone would want to watch your underdog story unfold. Does my lack of cheerleaders mean I’m a terrible actor? A terrible person? Will I ever succeed if I lack the ability to make friends and cheerleaders?
If I had a dollar for every time my popular theatre friend told me “Just talk to people!” I’d probably have enough money to pay my bills. And if I did for every time I tried and was rejected, I’d have enough to see Hamilton, food and plane ticket included. But here’s the thing: Theatre cliques aren’t like the ones in movies. They aren’t as simple as “the geeks” or “the jocks”, if they were, I probably wouldn’t have this problem, and I can’t help but feel like I’m the only one who sees them. I used to see it as “the leads” and “the popular ensemble” and “the quiet ensemble”, but it’s not that simple either or, again, I wouldn’t have this problem when placed as a lead. They’re more like “the preppy/popular theatre kids” and “the Switzerlands” and“the outcasts”, you can guess where I am in that “clique”. It’s hard enough as is to be an outcast among my classmates my whole life, living for theatre, but it’s another when you’re rejected by the people who share your craft. That doesn’t sound like it should make sense, but it’s happening all the time.
Now, I don’t mind being alone, I learned to like it after my first year in University, but when you finish a show and have no one waiting for you, or anyone to talk to about the Tonys, it’s hard to get into a positive frame of mind that anyone’s even watching, and waiting for you to succeed. To put it in musical perspective, I don’t think I’ve related to “Waving Through a Window” by Dear Evan Hansen more than when witnessing Theatre Cheerleaders.
Theatre is everything I am. You may think I’m in the wrong industry because I’m an introvert, and I have a hard time making friends, but theatre is the only thing that makes sense to me. Am I what’s wrong? I don’t think so. Is it the world? Maybe. Is it the cheerleaders? Maybe that too.
Theatre is accepting of all things, but success is only seen in the friends you make. So, is it that I need to make better friends for my cheer squad, push my social anxiety aside and “Talk less, smile more” or do I need to seek better company, find people who love me for who I am, people who wave back at me through the window? Because it’s not as easy as saying it, and more people need to know that.
I still have yet to find somewhere I belong, even in theatre, but I hope one day I can find my place where I am loved, praised, and I will be found.
Aly is a University student in Canada majoring in Dramatic Arts. She doesn’t know what she’s going to do with her degree, but she doesn’t care as long as she stays involved with the love of her life: theatre.
From left, Adrienne Warren, Taylor Louderman and Elle McLemore in "Bring It On: The Musical" at the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles. Credit Craig Schwartz