I had some grand plans for my first couple of weeks at Hopkins. I wanted to magically make it onto SAAB (success), not get lost more than once (fail), and stave off the freshmen fifteen (half-fail or half-success, depending on your point of view). But maybe most of all, most desperately, I wanted to do the Freshmen One-Acts.
For those of you not in the know, aka me about a month ago, the Freshmen One-Acts (FOAs) are a series of, you guessed it, one-acts performed by freshmen and directed by upperclassmen. They’re produced by the Barnstormers, the oldest company on campus, and are, if I do say so myself, the best way to get reacquainted with theatre, Hopkins style.
But before I go any further, it’s time for some much-needed backstory. In the words of Maria, Broadway’s favorite ex-nun, “let’s start at the very beginning.” Because, you know, it’s just a very good place to start.
Dang, I don’t even really like The Sound of Music. My quoting of musicals has become entirely compulsive, and I apologize in advance for the song lyrics that will inevitably follow me throughout my blogging career.*
I’ve been obsessed with musical theatre for as long as I can remember. While other elementary school children made normal life choices, like going outdoors and playing with spherical pieces of athletic equipment, I spent my Saturdays sitting in front of a monolithic stereo listening to, judge me if you dare, Andrew Lloyd Weber’s The Phantom of the Opera on tape. I memorized every word, every note, every time stupid Raoul with his stupid face rides in on a stupid figurative white horse to ruin things between the Phantom and Christine. (Shut up, it’s my favorite musical; I can have as many opinions as I want.) Shortly after seeing Phantom on Broadway, I auditioned for my first musical, the quaintly underrated Eeyore’s Christmas Present, and was cast as Piglet.
And then I was hooked. There isn’t anything quite like being onstage, as any fellow theatre-addict will tell you. I have chased that high for the past ten years, shoving as many musicals as I could into the span of twelve months, letting them dictate my days, my friendships, my life. They were splattered across my college applications, dominating lists of extra-curriculars and personal essays alike. When I had to write about passion, I wrote about musical theatre.
So the idea that I’ll only be doing one musical a year, if I’m lucky, during my time at Hopkins has taken some getting used to. I was already feeling a little restless at week two, when friends back home started posting exuberant Facebook statuses regarding the cast lists of their fall shows. I knew I wanted to get my theatre fix, and, even though a scene with no music was miles outside of my comfort zone, I was determined to find my place in the FOAs.
And now that I’m here writing this the morning after my final FOA performance, just chock full of post-production nostalgia, I’ve decided to put all my feelings into a nice, neat list of reasons why the FOAs are perfect for anyone looking to cultivate one of their many passions on the Homewood campus.
1) The Family: Support systems are college freshmen gold, and participating in the FOAs gives you one ready-made. Since the scenes are pretty small, often two to three actors and two directors, you are able to spend real quality time getting to know your FOA family. So do you know what happens? I’ll tell you what happens. Insta-bonding, that’s what happens. My fabulous FOA directors/parents were known to whisk us away to Hampden for dinner or bring chocolate to rehearsal when we were having bad days. Having a group of people who not only shared my interests, but also consistently wanted me to succeed has probably been one of the brightest highlights of my life at Hopkins thus far.
2) The Experience: The FOAs give you a unique chance to explore the theatre opportunities on campus. I am now officially a Barnstormer (HOORAY) and therefore feel like I at least have a sense of how theatre works at Hopkins (you’d be surprised to learn that I was very curious about the spring musical selection process). You also get some very welcome exposure to members of other theatrical groups, like Witness Theater and Throat Culture, furthering the awesome sense of community.
3) The Life Lessons: Before running through our scene, my FOA “father” would put his hands on my shoulders, stare intently into my eyes and say “know what you want; get what you want.” Now c’mon, that even tastes like a valuable life lesson when you say it out loud. My life would be a whole lot simpler, and I would be a lot less painfully indecisive, if I adopted that mindset. But in all seriousness, my directors offered me enough guidance to last the next four years, and that is what has truly made the FOAs so near and dear to my heart.
Jeez, that took a turn for the cheesy at the end there. All my warm fuzzy feelings aside, the moral of the story is that you can really do anything here. You don’t have to give up little pieces of yourself or compromise a passion to fit in. That just isn’t the Hopkins way. We all have something that makes us tick, makes us feel special, and JHU is all about celebrating the quirks that make us who we are. The FOAs helped me realize that.
*So I just googled “I think my life is a musical + medical condition.” No real results (my disorder remains nameless), but I think it’s safe to assume that anyone compelled to enter that into a search engine is deserving of some sort of title. Probably one that ends in –maniac.