The best part of a play isn’t when the audience laughs or applauds. It isn’t the joy of diving into the psyche of the character you are playing, and it isn’t getting to dress up in costume. The best part of being in a play is eating take out with the rest of the cast and chatting after a long day of rehearsal. Locking eyes with a fellow actor the moment before the scene begins and silently reassuring each other that you’ve got this are irreplaceable feelings. The whole cast hugging and crying together backstage after the final performance because the show went brilliantly, and it’ll never happen again, is the best part of a play.
These moments were what made acting my favorite activity throughout high school. When I stepped onto University of North Carolina‘s campus as a freshman, I couldn’t wait to audition for as many plays as I could. I signed up for every theatre club the school had and received emails about upcoming auditions. It wasn’t long before I had signed up for several and was rehearsing constantly in my dorm room when my roommate wasn’t home.
A week later, I stood outside the room that my first audition would take place in. I felt a nervousness that had never enveloped me as entirely as it did then. Auditioning in front of a drama teacher I’d known since sixth grade was one thing, but singing in front of a crowd of unfamiliar and intimidating older students was another. But I was a decent singer, I reassured myself. I had, after all, gotten into and performed in my high school’s production of Suessical just the year before. When I walked out of the audition room 15 minutes later, I wasn’t sure the theatre club would be so convinced of my talent.
The resounding melody that I carefully prepared for the audition had faded when I entered the room. Though I was certain I hit the correct notes, I was equally certain that it went unnoticed due to the minor detail that my nervous performance had been inaudible.
I quickly realized that if I wasn’t cast, I would have to wait until the next semester to audition again. My nervousness followed me through the rest of the auditions; my shaky voice and eyes that couldn’t tear themselves from the floor wouldn’t get me cast.
In the following weeks, a steady stream of emails confirmed my fears. I received a slew of cast lists devoid of my name.
The rest of the semester had a certain emptiness. I made friends with several girls in my classes and found plenty of activities to fill my time. Still, I couldn’t shake the desire to take part in a play and feel the same sense of community I enjoyed during my acting days in high school. This feeling continued throughout my freshman year when I wasn’t cast in any of the the plays I auditioned for in the winter either. Where did I go wrong? Did they hear rumors of the time that high-school me carelessly whispered “Macbeth” in a crowded theatre?
I thought about the increased difficulty of participating in performance arts in college. At my small high school, I’d participated in many productions, and even starred in some. However, the number of students I was competing against in college had dramatically increased. Standing out in a crowd of 500 is much harder than than standing out in a crowd of 50.
This thought humbled me. I decided that while I would continue trying to get cast in a play, I would also search for the sense of community I wanted in other places. So, I branched out. Later in my freshman year, I joined a sorority; I tried my hand at table tennis on the club team; and best of all, I asked a girl in my English class if she wanted to eat lunch with me. And as that turned into daily lunches, a great friendship grew.
I did finally get cast in a play the fall of my sophomore year in a production of Columbinus. The experience was just as I hoped. Through early mornings of rehearsal and late-night cast parties, we formed the bond that grows when you create a story together. I felt lucky to experience the familiar and wonderful sense of community that I loved.
Columbinus rehearsals have ended, and I find myself drifting unanchored through the sea of students once again. But as I sit next to my best friend on the cool brick steps of The Pit, see the table tennis team jostling each other as they hand out flyers and my sorority sisters laughing as they eat lunch across the way, I no longer feel alone. Even if during my freshman year I was literally out-casted.