Op-Ed: To think outside the Balch
Published: Monday, September 23, 2013
Updated: Monday, September 23, 2013 02:09
When I arrived on campus three years ago, I hoped — and expected — that I had landed well. Here was a school where I could participate in theater, study environmental education and find exothermic men on winter days. And I was right. Mostly.
As I enter my senior year, I look back, and while I wouldn’t necessarily choose Tufts again, I’ve managed to find a satisfying niche ... despite the inevitable frustrations and the ups and downs.
I, and many of my peers, have found one of these moldy cherries in the Tufts Department of Drama and Dance and student theater, which we feel as a whole to be consistently, and increasingly, disheartening.
A good director, student or otherwise, should recognize that a liberal arts college like Tufts is a place for exploration.
But how can we foster an environment for experimentation when one of the most popular student groups slams its doors on unfamiliar faces?
Last week, an undergraduate production of Eurydice released their cast list to a group of anticipatory auditionees, all of whom had spent a grueling five hours of their Sunday reading sides for the show. Rumor is circulating that their weekend was nothing more than a formality, as many of the leading roles were decided, promised even, well before the first name hit the Aidekman call board.
I do not know whether these rumors are true, that the auditions were a pre-meditated sham. Personally, I doubt it was that sinister. But the results suggest a problem nevertheless. With few exceptions, the students chosen for this cast — like so many before — belong to an inner circle.
Perhaps this is merely because it is human nature to favor the familiar and the comfortable, the good-looking and the predictable. (I like lakes, but that doesn’t mean I’ll never venture into a reed-filled swamp for a juicy frog leg.) If the Tufts drama department and student theater is anything like me and my choice of swimming holes, they need to hoist on their big kid gators and wade into murkier, unexplored water.
Incest is so unbecoming.
This is not to say that the students who were cast don’t deserve their roles. Many, maybe even all, are talented and hard-working. But the chosen few are too few and too often chosen.
A recent graduate put together a senior project for her American Studies major the spring of her senior year. It was an all-African American cast. She reached out to underclassmen in the Tufts community, and so many brave and talented students auditioned, that she expanded the cast to make room for five times as many actors as she had originally planned. That created five times as many opportunities for personal, theatrical exploration and growth.
The show was magnificent. The cast members are walking testimonials to how a play can have a positive impact on someone’s self-esteem. And even though the actors were inexperienced, the show did not sacrifice talent for teaching.
Tufts is not a theater conservatory. Our drama major requires no audition or previous background in the arts. So we need to stop “acting” as if the quality of the show depends on risk-free and predictable casting.
It does not. Quite the opposite. We are missing out on so much untapped talent. Less experienced players, if cast alongside seasoned actors, would bring a fresh, exciting synergy to the stage.
It’s like a kick to the groin to repeatedly walk high-hoped into the Aidekman lobby just to scan a list of familiar names, none as familiar as their own. Which is why we need to start finding a place, or better yet, making a place where students feel that it is worth taking a chance; finding the courage to step up and try out without near-guaranteed rejection.
All else aside, congratulations to the cast of Eurydice for what’s sure to be a wet week of contemporary art. P.S. I hear there’s an underwater theme.
Avery Stern is a senior majoring in English. She can be reached at Avery.Stern@tufts.edu.